Sounders have eyes focused on first place

  • Fri May 11th, 2012 11:43pm
  • Sports

By Don Ruiz The News Tribune

Major League Soccer’s top two clubs — depending on how you do the figuring — meet tonight at CenturyLink Field.

Real Salt Lake arrives with a 7-3-2 record, which is good for a league-high 23 points. Sounders FC answers with a 7-1-1 record (22 points), which is good for a league-best average of 2.44 points per game.

“If you can’t be ready for this game and get motivated, maybe you’re not alive,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “Our team will be ready. We’re going to be motivated for this game. It’s a chance for us to move into first place overall.”

The Sounders have added incentive because last season it was Real Salt Lake that knocked them out of the playoffs. A rivalry also has developed because the two clubs have been not only good, but even. Head-to-head, they are 2-2-2 in regular-season meetings.

“They are always in the first place, second place,” Seattle forward Fredy Montero said. “We are always trying to make first place, too. I think it’s going to be a good game. They have very good players. But we are at home: We need to win this game.”

Schmid said Salt Lake’s run of consistent success has paralleled the consistency in key parts of their roster. He cited goalkeeper Nick Rimando, central defenders Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, midfielder Javier Morales, and forwards Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola. Ten players are in either their fifth or sixth season on the roster — the longest-tenured core in MLS history.

“Those guys have been together for a long time now,” Schmid said. “That nucleus, that core, that spine, is really good. Outside of that they change it around a little bit, but at the end of the day, they’ve had a very consistent lineup.”

Salt Lake averages 1.92 points per game — fourth in MLS — but leads in total points after having played a league-high 12 games. Seattle has played nine games, but is gaining fast. This will be the Sounders’ fifth match in 15 days — and they won the first four.

That heavy a schedule can take its toll on a roster. However, Schmid could have another option tonight with the expected return of midfielder Alvaro Fernandez.

But defender Patrick Ianni is doubtful with back soreness, and defender Zach Scott is out while serving the one-game suspension handed down Friday by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for a dangerous tackle Wednesday at FC Dallas.