Midfield holds the key

In a game with playoff implications, the Sounders turn to Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans to get things started against Toronto FC.

The Major League Soccer season is 30 games long and any coach will tell you that the three points from one game don’t mean any more than the three points in any other game when the standings are tallied at the end of the year.

Those coaches would be right, but when the Sounders FC face Toronto FC Saturday afternoon at Qwest Field, the three points mean so much more with the Reds (as Toronto are often referred) are nipping at their heels for a playoff spot. With just three points separating the Sounders in a fifth place tie on the MLS table and Toronto, who is tied for seventh with three other clubs, there is very little breathing room.

“When you get closer to the end result, people become a little more conscientious of the point total,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We want to continue to be a good team at home, so we need to win our games at home. That’s the basic rule of soccer competition worldwide. We have three games left at home and we want to maximize those points and we want to take some points off the road trips as well.”

With three of their final seven matches at Qwest, where the Sounders are 6-2-4 on the year, they could earn as many as nine points and move that much closer to a playoff berth.

“For me, it’s always been 45 (points) and you’re definitely going in,” said Schmid, whose Sounders are sitting at 33 points now. “If you average a point and a half a game, you are definitely in. That area between 40 and 45 you have a good chance of getting in.”

One of the reasons for that success that has put them in position to fight for a playoff spot with two months left on the schedule has been the play of the central midfield.

Starters Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso have been as important to the consistency as the top goal-scorers and lock-down defenders, though their contributions are much more difficult to measure statistically.

Acting as links from the five players behind them and the four attacking in front of them, it is easy to miss their importance in a game. And beyond the stalwart play of Alonso and Evans, the Sounders have plenty of depth, with MLS veteran Peter Vagenas and young mainstays Stephen King and Nate Sturgis available to give Schmid several different types of options.

“We can adjust right now with those five guys,” Schmid said. “We have four quality ones that are healthy at this point because Stephen is out. The guys who are playing a little bit better in games will be able to hold on to their spots.”

Against Toronto the first time around on April 4 at BMO Field, Alonso was able to keep Dwayne De Rosario at bay while connecting to Freddie Ljungberg in the middle of the field to generate attacks the other way. With Carl Robinson, his counterpart for Toronto, and defender Adrian Serioux out Saturday because of yellow card accumulation, moving the ball into the attacking third will be important against a vulnerable Toronto defense.

Kickoff is set for 1 pm at Qwest Field. The game can be seen on KING 5 TV and can be heard on radio on 97.3 KIRO FM.

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