By John Boyle Herald Writer
On paper, this looks like a worst-case scenario for Seattle Sounders FC. A team struggling through the first half of its season, Seattle has to play in Los Angeles tonight — the team’s third game in a week — against the Galaxy, the best team in the league.
Then again, on paper Seattle was supposed to be a playoff-caliber team this season, so maybe tonight won’t turn out so bad.
And since there is no changing the schedule midway through the season, Sounders FC players are embracing the challenge of facing the first-place Galaxy tonight. If a turnaround season is going to happen, it might as well start against the league’s best.
“At the moment in this league, there’s no better place to play and win than L.A.,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “They’re the bench mark for every other MLS team, including ourselves. There’s no better place for us to play right now. And I’m confident going in there. We went there and won last year, so we have that in the back of our minds, and we’ve always done reasonably well against L.A., except that last game. We’re confident. As much as we’re having a tough time and struggling a little bit, we’ve been in almost every game … We’re hoping we can play well and turn this around, and L.A. is the best place to start.”
That last game against L.A. that Zakuani speaks of was the embarrassing 4-0 loss at Qwest Field earlier this season. At the time that loss seemed like rock bottom, but Seattle keeps hitting new lows in the follow up to its wildly successful inaugural season in 2009. After losing four of its last five games, Seattle is now 4-7-3 and in seventh place in the eight-team Western Conference. Through those 14 games, Seattle already has as many losses as it did all of last season.
Some of that is certainly underachieving, but perhaps expectations were also a bit high heading into the year.
“That was like a fluke year,” midfielder Freddie Ljungberg said. “We played amazingly and we have to be realists sometimes that that’s how it is.”
Ljungberg isn’t saying his team can’t improve, just that last year might have led to the bar being set a bit too high. No matter the expectations, however, Seattle isn’t happy with the way this season has started. A U.S. Open Cup win over Portland Wednesday should give Seattle a little momentum, but the fact remains that the team is a long ways from where it wants to be in league play.
“It’s worn on the guys,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s worn on me as well. It’s a situation where I think we know we are better than that, but at the end of the day, our record doesn’t show it, so we’ve got to turn that around. This is difficult. This is going to be our third game on the road in eight days so it’s a difficult stretch for us. But we have got to muster it up and we have got to show the character.”
For Schmid, who coached the Galaxy from 1999-2004, and former Galaxy players Tyrone Marshall, Pete Vagenas and Nathan Sturgis, this trip is always a meaningful one. The fact that Seattle beat the Galaxy on the road last season should also bolster confidence a bit.
“For me and for a few a few other guys on the team, L.A. is always a personal game,” Schmid said. “We know we can win on the road, and we know we can win there as well. We’ve done it before, so we’ve just got to know that that experience exists in our past and we have to use it as we move into this game.”
And ultimately, the opponent is less important for Seattle than what is going on with Sounders FC. Yes the Galaxy is the best team in the league, and yes they are welcoming back stars Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle from the World Cup, but more than anything, Seattle players feel like a the key to a turnaround is correcting their own problems.
“The majority of what we need to talk about is ourselves,” goalkeeper and captain Kasey Keller said. “If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we might not win every game, but we’re definitely going to give ourselves a chance … If we go down to L.A. and play to our ability, we’re going to win the game.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.