The magnitude might not be completely clear until after the season ends, but the Sounders FC pulled off quite the feat on Saturday when they topped the Columbus Crew 1-0 to end the home side’s 22-game unbeaten streak at Crew Stadium.
Add that win to two 2-1 victories at RFK Stadium against DC United, a 1-1 draw at Houston Dynamo’s Robertson Stadium and a 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center and the Sounders have developed a good resume of road wins against quality opponents, which could be very valuable come playoff time.
“You have to win big games in order to believe you can win big games. That’s what we are starting to build here,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said Tuesday. “Obviously, winning the U.S. Open Cup game in Washington D.C., winning this game in Columbus are the building blocks there. We still need to win a couple of big games at home as well to continue those building blocks for us.”
The win boosts their road record to 4-5-5, from 1-4-4 just two months ago, and puts them in position to challenge for one of the top spots in the Western Conference playoff picture – which would mean home field advantage in the first round home-and-home series.
“The thing for us is I think we found our defensive resiliency again which we had earlier in the season which was sort of like whatever it takes we are going to try to get in front of this ball and block it and defend and not give anything up. I think we have found that again because for a little bit of time we weren’t as resolved sometimes in our defending,” Schmid said.
Never is that resolve more clear than in the play of Tyrone Marshall, who not only saved a would-be goal off the line in Saturday’s win, but also deflected two other shots that were headed toward the net. Add that to the tenacious on-ball defending the Sounders have employed and the 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution looks much more like a hiccup than a negative trend.
“Sometimes playoff games get tight. Sometimes you have to win a game by rolling up your sleeves and battling,” Schmid said. “For the playoffs, it’s good preparation to go into a hostile environment and win a game against a team that is putting pressure on you and still being able to obtain a shutout.”
But this clean sheet wasn’t just any clean sheet. It came on the road against a Crew side that hadn’t lost in their building since June of 2008 – a streak that was started by Schmid when he coached in Columbus. In that span, they went an astonishing 16-0-6 with seven clean sheets, outscoring their opponents 46-21.
“It was just great. We talked about trying to end their streak. It’s something we addressed before the game and it was a great feeling to be able to do it,” Schmid said. “But the most important thing for us was to get the three points in the playoff chase because most people didn’t think we were going to get points in our game in Columbus. For me personally, it was a nice accomplishment, but it’s the three points that I value the most.”
With two games left on their schedule, the Sounders inched ever closer to clinching a playoff berth and currently sit in sixth overall in the MLS and fourth in the Western Conference standings. The finish the regular season with matches at Kansas City Oct. 17 and against FC Dallas at Qwest Field Oct. 24, who sit 13th and 12th, respectively, in the 15-team MLS standings.