Even in the one-game-at-a-time world of sports, the Seattle Sounders are willing to admit that this section of their Major League Soccer schedule offers a rare opportunity.
Their game tonight against San Jose begins a stretch in which five of their next six games are at home. Meanwhile, their next two road games come against the teams with the lowest point totals in MLS: June 20 at New York and Aug. 2 at San Jose.
The Sounders, who have drifted down the playoff standings while going winless since April, see this stretch as the springboard that could lift them back among the league leaders.
“It better be,” veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller said, “because then we have a long road run. It works out that way. If you have a bunch of games at home, you’re going to at some stage have to play a bunch of games away. We love playing at home, so we have to take advantage of that situation. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
First up are the Quakes, the struggling 2008 MLS expansion entry that was the last team Seattle defeated, 2-0, on April 25.
They return in particular disarray after a disappointing start led to a couple of trades this week: one sending Kent native Cam Weaver to Houston for forward Chris Wondolowski and the other sending defender Nick Garcia to Toronto for a draft pick.
However, the Earthquakes have gotten four points out of their last two games, and the personnel moves make them a different team from the one Seattle beat earlier.
“It’s uncertain how many minutes (midfielder Darren) Huckerby is going to play (due to a quadriceps strain); he’s obviously a huge impact to their team,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “(Jason) Hernandez didn’t play against us last time, so he’s obviously the defender they decided to basically hang their hats on. (Aaron) Pitchkolan is another guy who has joined the team since we last played them – he’s going to be on the field somewhere, so it changes their team. Hernandez is a little bigger; Pitchkolan is a bigger guy as well, so it makes them a little bit bigger in those key areas. But we have to be concerned about ourselves and less concerned about San Jose.”
In terms of personnel, Seattle’s top concern is replacing three starters: forward Nate Jaqua, who will be out due to red-card suspension; midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, doubtful with a quad strain; and defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, out due to yellow-card accumulation.
However, Schmid seems more concerned about the Sounders’ ongoing scoring difficulty. After scoring seven goals in the first three games, Seattle has scored only eight in the nine league games since.
“We’ve got to make sure that we play to zero again in the back, I think that’s important,” Schmid said. “But the important thing is for us to finish the chances we create, because I think we created chances against Chivas and we created chances in the game before against Columbus, but we didn’t finish them.”
If form holds, they’ll have opportunities tonight against a San Jose defense that ranks last in the league with an average of two goals allowed per game.
“It’s a streaky league,” Schmid said. “I think obviously when you look at our first six games we got 12 points, which is two points a game, which is a good streak. And then you look at our last six games and we’ve got five points, so that’s a bad streak. It’s time we put together a good streak.”
sounders fc gameday
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (2-7-3; 9 pts.) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (4-3-5; 17 pts.)
7:30 P.M., QWEST FIELD.
TV: Ch. 5. Radio: 97.3-FM; 1210-AM (Spanish).
Head to head: Sounders won inaugural meeting, 2-0, April 25 in Seattle.
Team leaders: For San Jose – G, 5 Ryan Johnson; A, 4 Chris Leitch; Sh, 28 Arturo Alvarez; SOG, 19 Johnson. For Seattle – G, 4 Fredy Montero; A, 4 Nate Jaqua; Sh, 33 Montero; SOG, 9 Montero.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “They’re a team that obviously hasn’t done nearly as well as they’d hoped to do. They’re a team that can play pretty loose and sort of throw everything out there and say, ‘Hey we’re just going to go for it. We’re trying to win games. We’re trying to get points.’ And the longer a team like that hangs around, the more dangerous they become.”
Notes: The Quakes rank last in the MLS Western Conference and are tied for last in the league. They allow a league-high two goals per game. ... The Sounders have won once over their last nine games, and that win was against San Jose. ... Sounders midfielder Jaqua is out due to red-card suspension and defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is out due to yellow-card accumulation. Defender Tyrone Marshall returns from red-card suspension. Midfielder Peter Vagenas (ankle) and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (quad) aren’t expected to start.
Next: D.C. United, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Qwest Field; sold out; ESPN2.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune