Seattle Sounders FC will go into the World Cup break with the best record in Major League Soccer, regardless of a win, loss or draw Saturday at the Chicago Fire.
The Sounders would rather win, of course, to continue building their point total and help them enjoy their time off that much more.
“We want to end on a positive result ... so we go into the break on that good feeling,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Nobody wants to go away and take a few days off and be thinking about a loss.”
The Sounders will head into Toyota Park with a 9-3-2 record. That puts them beyond the reach of second-place Real Salt Lake, which is four points behind with one match to play before the league takes the next two weekends off to accommodate group play for the World Cup in Brazil.
The Fire, on the other hand, returns home with a three-game winless streak — scoring only one goal over that stretch.
Chicago also figures to be the more tired team, as this is its third match in seven days.
The Sounders also have history on their side, as the Fire is the only MLS team that has never beaten them. However, Schmid put little stock in that.
“(Forward) Harrison Shipp wasn’t there for any of those games, so it doesn’t matter to him,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to (midfielder) Benji Joya — he wasn’t there for any of those games. … That history is maybe there, but there are so many guys on the field that have no part of that history, you don’t think about it. As a coach, though, you can maybe use it as motivation, and I’m sure (Chicago coach Frank Yallop) will use that.”
While the Fire has struggled to win, it isn’t easy to beat. Chicago has played to a draw in a league-high eight of its 13 games — including its past two.
“They’re a dangerous team because they defend well,” Schmid said. “They do a good job of compacting their defense. They do a good job of pressuring you in wide channels.”
Both teams also must battle the urge to view this as a kind of senior skip day. After this match, Schmid is giving the Sounders six consecutive days off before reuniting them for training next weekend.
Several Sounders cautioned that the key to entering the break with a good result is to avoid starting that break 90 minutes early.
“That’s all part of being a pro,” captain Brad Evans said. “You have breaks during the season, whether it’s an off week or whatever it is. … It’s always in the back of everybody’s mind, but you want to reward yourself, and you don’t want to look back for two and a half weeks (thinking), ‘What if we would have done this in Chicago?’”
The Sounders loaned third-string goalkeeper Josh Ford to the Orange County Blues of USL Pro through June 14, the club announced.
Ford, 26, was loaned to the Blues earlier this season, recording a shutout and an assist in their 1-0 win over Oklahoma City on May 10.
The Blues will play three games over the course of this loan, while the Sounders will play one.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (9-3-2, 29 POINTS) AT CHICAGO FIRE (2-3-8, 14 POINTS)
5:30 p.m., Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
TV: JOEtv. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: The Sounders lead the series, 5-0-3 overall and 2-0-2 at Chicago. The Fire is the only Major League Soccer team never to have beaten Seattle. The Sounders won at home last season, 2-1. This is the only scheduled meeting this season.
Notes: The Sounders have the top record in MLS, while Chicago is ninth in the Eastern Conference. … The Fire’s eight draws are most in the league. … Chicago recorded its first clean sheet of the season in Wednesday’s draw at Colorado. … This is the Fire’s third match in seven days. The Sounders have been off since their 4-0 win over Real Salt Lake last weekend. … Chicago’s past three goals have come on penalty kicks. The Fire has gone four matches without scoring in the run of play. … Quincy Amarikwa leads the Fire with five goals, but he has not scored since May 10. … Seattle is without forward Clint Dempsey and defender DeAndre Yedlin because of international duty, and central defender Djimi Traore is out with a leg injury. Chicago forward/midfielder Patrick Nyarko (knee) is out, while forward Mike Magee (calf) and midfielder Logan Pause (hamstring) are questionable. … Sounders midfielder Marco Pappa played the first five seasons of his MLS career in Chicago. Defender Jalil Anibaba came to Seattle in a trade that sent Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni to the Fire. … Chicago’s average home attendance is 15,468. The Fire is 1-1-4 at home, while Seattle is 3-1-2 on the road. … Magee and Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso are one caution from yellow-card suspension. … The referee is Chris Penso.
Quotable: “Amarikwa is a dangerous player up front. … Harrison Shipp is probably one of the leading candidates for rookie of the year. So if Magee is healthy, that just adds another danger spot for them. … Dilly Duka is a player who can beat people on the flank. Those guys are all dangerous.” — Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on the Fire
Next: The Sounders will join the U.S. Open Cup fourth round at 7 p.m. June 18, meeting amateur club PSA Elite at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila. Seattle returns to league play June 28 at D.C. United.blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer