The Final Countdown
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
The Sounders enter the final month of the regular season with their sights still set on three trophies while continuing to build momentum for the MLS Cup playoffs.
All season long, the Sounders FC have approached their daunting schedule that has already included 40 matches in MLS, Open Cup and COCNACAF Champions League play with a game-at-a-time approach.
In the grueling months of August and September, that resulted in records of 7-0-1 and 3-2-1, respectively. That stretch has elevated the Sounders to second place in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, into the US Open Cup and to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Now with one month to play before MLS Cup playoffs begin, the Sounders again find themselves refocusing for another difficult run of games. That starts Saturday night at Gillette Stadium where the Sounders will play the last in a three-game road trip that saw them visit four time zones in three countries and travel over 6,500 miles. In that stretch, they have already posted a victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps to claim the Cascadia Cup and a 2-2 comeback draw against Comunicaciones in Guatemala to clinch advancement in the Champions League.
Sigi Schmid and the Sounders will take a similar approach to the final month of the regular season calendar, which includes four regular season MLS matches, the Open Cup final against the Chicago Fire on Tuesday and the final match of the group stage of the Champions League against Monterrey from Mexico on October 17 at CenturyLink Field.
In that span, they hope to continue to carry the momentum of the last two months that lifted them to such successful heights.
“I think we need to maintain what we’re doing. I think we’ve shown good character, we’ve played well as a group, as a team, and battled for each other,” Schmid said.
There are things Schmid would like to see improved before they embark on their playoff journey though.
While they have been the highest scoring team in MLS with 49, their 32 goals allowed leaves plenty of room for improvement for Schmid’s taste.
“You’d always like to give up a few less goals,” he said. “I think that’s something you’re always trying to achieve, especially as you get into the playoffs. The games need to get a little tighter because players become more attentive to defensive marking and details and maybe even the physical play picks up a notch.”
The Sounders have plenty of players that have experienced success in the playoffs before. For Pat Noonan, who helped the New England Revolution to three straight MLS Cup finals, maintaining their edge is the most important thing for the Sounders in the final month. While some matches may seem less vital on the surface, each is important to building toward the playoffs.
“We need to continue to get the results. We’ve been very confident because we’ve gotten good results in tough situations in CONCACAF and in MLS. We also have the Open Cup final and that would be a great trophy,” Noonan said. “Depth will be a key too because we’re going to have a lot of guys stepping in at different times and getting some minutes.”
Depth has been the calling card of the Sounders this season. Even with the long-term injuries that have knocked Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White out of action since April 22, they have maintained a strong bench, highlighted by the club’s 7-1-0 record in the MLS Reserve League, winning the Western Division with still two games to play.
That depth has also shown its merits in recent weeks when the schedule has included far more games with two matches than weeks with one, like most MLS clubs face.
Now with a goal of an MLS Cup on their mind, the whole squad is preparing for their time to shine.
Roger Levesque played on two championship sides with the USL Sounders in 2005 and 2007 and sees similarities between those clubs and the current edition of the Sounders FC.
“Typically the championship teams are tight-knit groups that have developed a sense of camaraderie and we’ve built that up over the last three years,” he said. The teams that end up winning are playing their best soccer at the end of the season and hopefully we continue to work and get better and improve on the little things that will put us over the hump to make a run in the playoffs.”
With so many of their goals already accomplished, the Sounders still have the Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield to play for in the final stretch before challenging for the MLS Cup. The final stage in those journeys begins Saturday against the New England Revolution. Kickoff is set for 4:30 Pacific Time on KONG 6/16.