Gearing Up For The Stretch Run
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
The Sounders had an incredible run through August, but the rigorous schedule only prepared them for another tough stretch in the final two months of the season.
It’s not every month that a pro soccer team can go unbeaten in eight matches.
The Sounders did just that in August, falling just short of absolute perfection with a 7-0-1 record in all competitions that prompted owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer to call head coach Sigi Schmid’s coaching job in the month “ridiculously brilliant.”
After a few days off, the Sounders were back on the field this week though and are ready to carry the momentum from that incredible stretch that rocketed them to second place in MLS, just four points behind the LA Galaxy, sent them to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal and gave them six points from two tough matches in the CONCACAF Champions League. They weren’t about to rest on their success though.
“August was a pretty good month. It was the best month we’ve had,” Schmid said. “Now we have to bring August forward into September and carry that with us for the rest of the time. We know what we can accomplish and when you know that it makes it easier for you to go forward. I’m excited for September, October and November because that means there are championship games coming up on the line and that’s something we’re looking forward to.”
After playing in playoff atmosphere’s throughout the month of August, things aren’t about to get any easier in September. They open the month with a home tilt with Real Salt Lake on Saturday and go on to play a stretch of nine matches in three competitions in 29 days. That includes a trip to Costa Rica and a three-game, three-country, three-time zone trip with matches against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Comunicaciones in Guatemala and the New England Revolution, before they return home for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final on October 4.
With the hectic schedule ahead, the Sounders players have no choice but to take each game as they come to avoid getting too far ahead of themselves.
“To be honest, we let the coaches worry about looking ahead,” defender James Riley said. “We as players just focus on one game at a time. Right now, that’s Real Salt Lake and training has been very sharp. Very intense. Guys are getting stuck in and getting after it and the quality has been high after the five-day break. Guys are very eager to get back onto the field.”
If there’s one thing August proved, it is that Seattle has a deep roster that Schmid can turn to in different situations and still find success.
In August, he used 22 players in the eight matches, starting 21 of them in an effort to keep players fresh while still giving his squad the best chance to win.
In September, he will have to do the same since the matches will come with equal frequency and urgency as the Sounders push toward the MLS playoffs, an appearance in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and a third straight US Open Cup title.
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s going to be tough, but if you want to be successful and be in multiple competitions and be in another Cup final, then that is what you have to deal with,” he said. “We’ve got a squad that can handle it and I’m sure there will be some changes for some games and I’m sure that the guys who get opportunities will take advantage of it.”
In their MLS opponents, Seattle sees the opportunity to climb closer to the LA Galaxy in the standings while also putting greater distance between themselves and the fast-approaching FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids.
The focus isn’t on results in matches other teams around MLS play though, but just on the match at hand.
“We know we’re behind LA and there are teams chasing us, but the overall consensus in the locker room is just to worry about ourselves because if we continue winning games then it puts pressure on those teams and that’s how we look at it,” Riley said.
Added Neagle, “When it comes down to this part of the season, every game is a playoff game. We’re trying to catch LA, so we want to be on top of our game.”
Kickoff against RSL is slated for 1 pm. The Sounders are planning to join in the league-wide effort to recognize and honor the “9/11 Memorial.” 20 US Army soldiers will line the red carpet during the team walk-out with an oversize United States flag presented on the field for the National Anthem. A moment of silence will be observed in memory of the tragic events on September 11, 2001. All players, coaches and match officials will wear armbands with a “9/11 Memorial” graphic. From 9:00-11:00 on the game clock, fans will be invited to raise miniature US flags, which will be distributed upon entry.