Things are changing in Seattle.
No longer is it satisfying to go to the Home Depot Center and hold the LA Galaxy scoreless and contain them to just two shots on goal. For the Sounders, earning a point has become a mere fallback option.
Three points is now the only acceptable result.
While that mantra may have existed throughout the club’s two previous seasons, the sense now is that it has gone far beyond hyperbole.
“It’s the confidence now. It’s the belief in the group,” defender Jeff Parke said. “We’re all disappointed if we don’t get three points. We all believe we should get at least one, but the three points is a must.”
The victories have been aplenty of late, but the Sounders have also gone seven straight unbeaten in MLS play, with a 4-0-3 record in that stretch. Add to that a 2-0-3 record in their last five matches away from CenturyLink Field that includes a 273-minute shutout streak and the Sounders are on fire whether they play at home or on the road.
At the 20-game mark, the Sounders have a better record than in any of their previous two years. They have also earned points in all but two of their road matches, going 3-2-5 to keep pace with the Galaxy and FC Dallas atop the MLS standings.
“It’s been a good run and our mentality has always been the same,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “The way I’ve always approached the road with this team and with every other team I’ve coached in MLS is that we are going to try and play the same way we play at home. It’s served us well. I think the team’s confident when they step on the field on the road and I think they’re excited for this road game.”
After starting off the season just 0-2-2 overall, but with strong showings in losses to the Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, the Sounders earned a valuable point in a 1-1 draw at PPL Park against the Philadelphia Union. What made the draw important was that it came on a 90th minute goal by Alvaro Fernandez and spurned the belief that expectations should be and could be higher on the road.
“I think it’s just our mentality on the road, to be honest,” defender James Riley said. “We knew we were a good road team before that, but to get an equalizer in the 90th minute in rain, wind and sleet changed everything.”
Key to the road stretch has been a rock-solid defense that has allowed just two goals in their last five matches away from home. This despite maintaining an attacking posture.
“I think our team defense has gotten better and I think we’ve made it a little more difficult for the opponent to play out of the back,” Schmid said. “We just have to make sure we finish our chances when we create them.”
While seven straight matches without a loss is the longest such streak in club history, the Sounders still have a ways to go to reach the run that saw them earn 33 points in 14 matches (10-1-3) in the second half of the 2010 season.
However, this time around has a different tone in the locker room, according to Parke.
“Last year we went on a good run. It feels different this year. It feels like we are starting to click a bit,” he said. “We’re a team that’s starting to build and starting to get a good run going here.”
They will take that run to Jeld-Wen Field in Portland on Sunday, where the Timbers started the season with five straight victories, but have since gone just 0-3-1 at home and 0-5-1 overall.
Even still, the Sounders will have to contend with the most bloodthirsty road crowd of the season. The Timbers are fifth in the league with an average attendance of 18,627, trailing the Sounders, LA Galaxy, Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC.
However, the fans’ proximity to the field and the acoustics of the building heighten the atmosphere at the newly renovated stadium, where the Sounders will have 500 supporters sitting in an allocated location to add to that environment.
“We are definitely going to feed off their fans. It’s going to be a great motivation for us,” Schmid said. “Obviously we are going to have some fans there and we know that they had to work hard to get those tickets and to get into that stadium, so we want to reward them.”
Kickoff is slated for 1 pm on ESPN2. The radio broadcast will be on 97.3 KIRO FM.