Sounders face tough stretch run

  • Sat Sep 1st, 2012 9:14pm
  • Sports

By Don Ruiz The News Tribune

Last weekend, Sounders FC faced a Chivas USA team desperately hoping to revive some sort of pulse in Major League Soccer’s playoff race.

Today, the Sounders will face similarly focused Dallas FC, which ranks sixth in a Western Conference playoff hunt that only five will survive.

“They’re at a stage where they really can’t afford to drop games — for sure, not to drop any home games,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “So … they’re a team that’s going to be desperate in that regard.”

The Sounders had better get used to this. As the second-to-last month of the MLS season dawns, their schedule is heavy on opponents with do-or-die incentives. Next weekend brings Chivas again. Then comes a trip to Portland, which will either be making a playoff push or will be looking for Cascadia Cup consolation. September’s final week will bring Supporters Shield leader San Jose; and a trip to Vancouver, which opens the month clinging to the final playoff spot in the West.

Once the calendar flips to October, the stretch run could make matches even more intense.

“We still have a game with San Jose, and two against Dallas,” Schmid said. “The second one against Dallas, you don’t know where they’re going to be in the standings at that point. But for sure you look ahead and there are six tough games where we’re either fighting for points, or it’s a rivalry game, or we’re playing against a team that’s trying to make their effort to get into the playoffs.”

After a 0-6-1 slump at midseason, the healthier Hoops resurrected their playoff hopes with a 3-1 run in August. Dallas opened this weekend five points behind the Whitecaps.

“The difference for them recently is (midfielder) David Ferreira,” Schmid said. “It took him a few games to get back into the rhythm, but then his rhythm got better. So with him, their team, everybody fits into places a little bit better. The structure seems to be better. He’s obviously a player who has attacking abilities and passing abilities. I’m sure Blas Perez will be back against us. … Having those two guys back makes a big difference. George John is back in the back, so that’s another player who helps them. And Brek Shea is back playing, as well.”

The Sounders also have unfinished business with nine regular-season games to go.

While playoff participation seems secure, Seattle opened the weekend seven points behind San Jose in the Supporters Shield race, having played one fewer game. The Sounders also were even with Real Salt Lake in the race for second place in the West, with two games in hand.

Seattle is 4-1 over its last five league matches, and 5-1-3 over its last nine.

Fredy Montero is the league’s hottest offensive player with six goals in August. Michael Gspurning has returned from injury to climb to lead MLS keepers with a 0.70 goals-against average and a .792 winning percentage.

“We’ve been a good hot-weather team — I think historically, the top team in the second half of the season, and we’re starting to show that again,” Schmid said. “We’re doing well. We’re getting goals from different people now, which is really important. The addition of (Christian) Tiffert has helped our team. The addition of (Mario) Martinez has helped our team, so we’ve got different elements we can go to. … I think we’re there where we need to be. I think we’re competitive and we’re in position to make a move in league, and obviously in a position to advance here.”