Back in April, few would have thought that the MLS standings would look the way they do in August.
FC Dallas just lost the 2010 MLS MVP when David Ferreira fractured his ankle against Chivas USA, just one week after the Sounders FC lost Steve Zakuani to a fractured tibia and fibula. It looked like a long season would become even longer for two struggling teams that lost such vital offensive pieces.
At the time, Ferreira had three goals and an assist for an FC Dallas team that was just 2-3-1 while Zakuani was on pace for another jump in his progress with two goals and two assists for 2-2-3 Seattle.
Since then, Dallas has gone 10-3-6 and Seattle has gone 9-3-6 and they now sit second and third in MLS, respectively.
The key, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said, is that the two teams haven’t been dwelling on the valuable players they lost, but instead kept their focus moving forward.
“I think we both have moved on in the sense that, obviously we’d love to have Steve Zakuani and they’d love to have Ferreira, but we don’t have them right now as coaches so we’ve both worked with the guys we have,” Schmid said. “Then certain guys have stepped up. Different people are able to take their opportunities and move forward with it.”
For Seattle, that has meant Alvaro Fernandez has stepped into Zakuani’s role on the left side of midfield and the team has had breakout performances by the likes of Lamar Neagle and Roger Levesque while the rest of the midfield has raised their individual levels.
With Fredy Montero providing a scoring threat at forward, Fernandez (6 G), Brad Evans (4 G, 1 A), Mauro Rosales (3 G, 7 A), Osvaldo Alonso (3 G, 2 A) and Erik Friberg (1 G, 2 A) have filled out most of the minutes in the midfield while spreading the responsibility of filling Zakuani’s contribution out amongst themselves.
“When you have such an offensive threat go out with an injury it almost brings the team closer together, realizing you can’t rely on that one guy the same way,” defender Zach Scott said.
They’ve done the same in Dallas, where Brek Shea is enjoying a standout season and Marvin Chavez has come on strong. While the 10 goals from Shea and give goals and four assists from Chavez have been great contributions, Dallas has especially strengthened themselves defensively in the absence of Ferreira.
In the six games Ferreira played, Dallas was outscored 9-8 and posted just one shutout. They have topped their opposition 25-17 in the 19 games since. They have 11 shutouts in that stretch, including a run of five straight clean sheets in May.
In addition to the two teams battling for the second spot in the MLS standings when they meet at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday, they will also meet in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on August 30 at Starfire. They were also both winners in their first group stage matches in the CONCACAF Champions League and are the only two teams that are still actively seeking titles in MLS, Open Cup and Champions League play.
However, the focus for the Sounders is on the chance to leap over Dallas and move closer to the first-place LA Galaxy in the standings on Saturday.
“It’s two teams that have aspirations to do more than just compete in the regular season,” Schmid said. “We both want to get to the playoffs and secure that so the game is important in that regard.”
Kickoff is 6 pm Pacific Time on KONG 6/16 and 97.3 KIRO FM radio.