Throughout Sounders FC’s history, the club has played well when the crowd swells at CenturyLink Field. Seattle has earned a 10-0-3 record when the attendance exceeds 40,000.
On Saturday, the Sounders will enter rare territory, though, as they will be visitors at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The San Jose Earthquakes are expecting a home crowd of over 44,000 as they play the first sporting event at the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium.
“It’s always exciting to be a part of something unique and it’s a unique thing to be the first sporting event to take place at Levi’s Stadium,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid.
A new stadium should be a welcome sight for Seattle, as the club was just 1-4-1 at Buck Shaw Stadium. The venue isn’t the only thing to change for San Jose, though.
Over the past few years, the Earthquakes have garnered a reputation for physical play. Led by the “Bash Brothers” duo of Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, the Earthquakes depended on aerial duels and scrappiness in the box to generate scoring chances. It was a successful equation that led to San Jose winning the Supporters’ Shield and Chris Wondolowski earning MVP honors in 2012.
Last week, though, the Earthquakes played much differently. After struggling through the first part of the season, Head Coach Mark Watson switched things up when Lenhart and Gordon were unavailable to start, and the Earthquakes played through the midfield and raced to a 5-1 win over the Chicago Fire. The style had already begun to change, but that lopsided victory and the acquisition Thursday of Argentine midfielder Matias Perez Garcia may signal a refurbished approach in the Bay Area.
“They try and connect a bit more. They’ve become a little less direct at times,” Schmid said. “They’re looking to play over the top of the defense a little more than they’re looking to play into flick-ons and things like that. So it does alter their game a little bit.”
While San Jose may have found success in a different approach, Seattle aims to revert back to its previous form after a 3-0 loss to the LA Galaxy on Monday.
According to Clint Dempsey, the defeat hasn’t changed the approach to training. Sounders FC believes itself much more representative of its 12-5-2 first-place record than its lopsided home loss to the Galaxy.
“It’s a long season. So if you win or you lose, you don’t get too high or too low. We’ve been consistent over the year,” Dempsey assured. “We’ve shown our quality and that’s why we are where we are in the table.”
There is, however, an urgency to assure that Seattle can get back to the form that earned a dominating 2-0 win over Portland earlier in July. When the team is on its game, the offensive game plan of the opposition is immaterial.
With plans of winning championships this year, the Sounders will look internally to get back on the right track.
“It’s not a result that we wanted, but at the end of the day we’ve got to see what we’re made of,” said midfielder Brad Evans, who is working his way back from a knee injury. “If we want to compete for the Supporters’ Shield and compete for MLS Cup, we’ve got to turn around from these losses and prove that we’re a championship quality team.”
Schmid echoed that sentiment, noting that Seattle has posted a 5-2-2 road record this season.
“The lesson for us is just our own pride. We don’t want to lose two in a row. We want to go in there and get the result,” Schmid said. “We’re one of the better road teams in the league and it’s just a matter of us showing our pride and showing our dignity on Saturday.”
Kickoff for the match is scheduled for 7:30 pm PT, with a national broadcast on NBC Sports.