More than two-thirds of the way through its regular season, Sounders FC has faced 16 of the 17 other MLS teams.
The league did Seattle no favor in delaying the arrival of the last one.
That is Chivas USA, which visits CenturyLink Field this afternoon.
The Goats wobbled out of the gate, going 0-2-3 over its first five games. However, they have turned things around recently, going 3-1-3 over their last seven and have climbed to 10th place in the league, which would be good for the final playoff position.
“Chivas is a different team now than earlier in the season,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “They’re a team that is more confident. They’re playing better soccer, better football now. So if you had the advantage to meet them earlier in the season, that’s an advantage. If you’re meeting them twice late in the season like we are, it means we are meeting a tougher team.”
Chivas’ recent run has sent the Goats beyond its total of 28 points from all of last season, and they stand one win shy of their 2010 total.
The club’s turnaround has been fueled by offense, where forward Justin Braun and midfielder Nick LaBrocca each rank in Major League Soccer’s Top 10 in goals scored and shots taken.
Braun has two hat tricks this season and has helped Chivas to a league-leading five games of three goals or more.
“Justin is a dangerous player,” Schmid said. “The ability to get those hat tricks shows that he can explode. … If you’re not aware of him, then he can hurt you. And LaBrocca I always thought was a good player. He was a good player at Colorado, then went to Toronto. I thought he was a good player in Toronto; but obviously he kept moving on, and he has certainly found a niche for himself at Chivas, and Chivas feels very comfortable with him.”
Another newcomer is defender Heath Pearce, an off-season acquisition from Dallas who has started every game. Defender Ante Jazic leads Chivas with six assists, a career high that places him seventh in MLS.
“They are a team that is playing well right now,” Schmid said. “They are confident. (Forward) Alejandro Moreno has come back from Copa America, and I think he feels very good about himself. They just signed a French player (midfielder Laurent Courtois), who I’m sure will get some more playing time against us than he got in week one. They are a team that is on the rise.”
So are the Sounders, who like Chivas opened the season with a pair of losses. However, Seattle has won six of its last eight league games and has just one loss over its last 11.
The Sounders scored two late goals last weekend for a 2-1 win at Kansas City. Since then, the club has enjoyed its only week of the last five in which they didn’t play a midweek game.
This temporary break in the schedule coincides with the possible return to health of several players: defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (knee), forward O’Brian White (leg), reserve goalkeeper Terry Boss (concussion), and perhaps midfielder Brad Evans (hamstring), although Schmid said Evans probably won’t return until next week.
“It’s good because there are a lot of (personnel) options, a lot of decisions that have to get made,” Schmid said. “It was tough (in training) to decide who was going to play in the 11v11 (formation), and picking the full squad for (today) is going to involve some decisions. But we have so many games coming up it gives us the opportunity to rotate a little bit, which is something we need to do in these games.”
The Chivas match begins a stretch where the Sounders will play six games in 18 days over three competitions: MLS, CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup.
The Sounders will end their regular season with an Oct. 22 visit to Chivas.
Chivas USA at Sounders FC, 1 p.m., Ch. 5, 97.3-FM
Inside: Preview capsule. B2 SOUNDERS GAMEDAY
CHIVAS USA (7-8-8, 29 PTS.) AT SOUNDERS FC (11-5-8, 41 PTS.)
1 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 5. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
HEAD TO HEAD: Chivas leads 2-1-2 overall but is 0-1-1 in Seattle. The clubs meet again Oct. 22 at Carson, Calif.
TEAM LEADERS: For Chivas – G 7, Justin Braun and Nick LaBrocca; A 6, Ante Jazic; S 57, LaBrocca; SOG, 23, Braun; GAA 1.05, Dan Kennedy. For Seattle – G 7, Alvaro Fernandez and Fredy Montero; A 8, Mauro Rosales; S 87, Montero; SOG 34, Montero; GAA 1.08, Kasey Keller.
NOTES: Seattle has won six of its past eight league games and taken points in 10 of its past 11. The Goats have won two of their past three and taken points in six of their past seven. … Chivas leads MLS with five three-goal games, including two of their last three. … Braun and LaBrocca are among the league’s top 10 in goals and shots. … Chivas All-Star defender Heath Pearce was with the U.S. national team for its 1-1 draw with Mexico on Wednesday. … This is the first of six games Seattle will play over the next 18 days. … The Sounders’ Montero and Servando Carrasco are one caution away from a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation. (Today is Carrasco’s 23rd birthday.) … The referee is Kevin Stott.
NEXT: The Sounders open CONCACAF Champions League group play at 7 p.m. Tuesday, when Comunicaciones of Guatemala visits CenturyLink Field. They return to MLS play Aug. 20 at FC Dallas.
Don Ruiz, staff writer