For the second time in the club’s young existence, the Sounders FC is looking to start the season with three straight victories when they face the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
Back in 2009, the Sounders opened the season with three consecutive shutout victories. With wins over Toronto FC and the Houston Dynamo already under their belt, they will look to go a perfect 3-0 to race out of the gates. With three straight home matches to start the season, it was already a goal before the season started.
“We had three games at home and we’ve talked about winning more games at home than we did last year,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Starting off 3-0 at home is important to us, especially because this game is coming against an opponent in the Western Conference.”
This season, conference games are more important because the league has opted for an unbalanced schedule that has the Sounders playing each Western Conference team three times and each Eastern Conference team just once. With the new playoff format that has the top five teams from each conference reaching the postseason with each team remaining in their conference, the competition within the conferences becomes more crucial and the Sounders will get their first taste of that against the Earthquakes.
San Jose opened the season with a 2-1-0 record on the strength of three goals from forward Chris Wondolowski.
The resourceful veteran has used his cunning around the goal to be the league’s top scorer over the last two seasons with 18 goals in 2010 and 16 goals in 2011, which tied him with league MVP Dwayne De Rosario for top honors.
“He’s a complete forward,” said Seattle defender Patrick Ianni, who played with Wondolowski while both were with the Dynamo from 2006-2008. “He works very hard and he’s very fit. He’s got a nose for goal, he can shoot from distance, he’s good in the air. Pretty much an all-around package.”
Wondolowski had fallen into obscurity with the Dynamo, scoring just four goals in three-and-a-half seasons for Houston before being traded to San Jose midway through the 2009 season. He scored three goals in the second half of that season, then earned the full-time starters role before the 2010 season and earned the MLS Golden Boot with 18 goals. While he hadn’t had any prolonged success in MLS prior to 2010, he was twice the leading scorer in the reserve division and proved quickly that 2010 was no fluke when he followed up that breakout season with 16 goals in 2011.
“He’s a dangerous player. He becomes more dangerous with the addition of a guy like Steven Lenhart,” Schmid said. “Lenhart is the kind of guy who creates space for whoever his partner is because he’s a big, wide body. He throws his body around, gets involved in little niggling confrontations, balls pop free, and if you’ve got a good player next to him he’s able to jump on those opportunities.”
In seven all-time meetings, Wondolowski shares the goal-scoring lead with Fredy Montero with three goals. However, Seattle holds the 4-2-1 edge and are unbeaten at 2-0-1 in their last three meetings. That includes a 2-1 win in front of 64,140 at CenturyLink Field in the regular season home finale last season.
To extend that streak, they will need to utilize their depth. Forward Eddie Johnson, midfielder Mauro Rosales and defender Adam Johansson are all expected to miss the match with injuries and Brad Evans is a game-time decision after suffering a hamstring injury late in Seattle’s 2-0 win over the Dynamo last week.
But the new pieces to the roster have adapted quickly, so shuffling the lineup isn’t much of a concern to Schmid.
“We’ve spent some time building this team and we’ve got some guys that have been here a while. Even though we’ve had some changes, there’s still a core group of players that are here, and that core group helps to assimilate all these new pieces that come into the game,” he said. “So from our team that’s something I’m very proud of is that we have been able to change things and not lose our rhythm and not lose our ability to still win games.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 pm, with the match televised live on KONG 6/16, with the radio broadcast live on 97.3 KIRO FM.