Five games into the 2012 MLS season the Sounders FC has already displayed resilience and ingenuity in building toward their best start in club history.
They have lost Mauro Rosales and Adam Johansson for all but one match, as well as Eddie Johnson for three matches and Brad Evans and Alvaro Fernandez for one match each. Their six goals have come from David Estrada, Brad Evans and Zach Scott. They have used 19 different starters already, including seven on the back line and nine in the midfield.
Even still, they are 3-1-1 and have allowed just two goals, only one of which came from open play.
“Goals are coming from different places and our defense has been phenomenal,” Evans said. “Playing to zero is something that we strove for all preseason.”
While the scoring has not been as potent as it was with Rosales in the lineup, the defense has remained as stingy as ever, keeping the Sounders on pace with the top teams in the league. Only three teams, Sporting Kansas City (7-0-0, 21 points), Real Salt Lake (5-2-0, 15 points) and the San Jose Earthquakes (4-1-1, 13 points), are ahead of the Sounders in the standings.
“I’m happy where we are, especially considering we’ve used 19 starters and it’s the best start we’ve had,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “The only team right now that is way beyond everybody else at this stage is Kansas City. And that’s fine. As far as I’m concerned they can go 33-1 in the regular season. I’m ok with that. And the only way we’d play them in the playoffs is if we both make MLS Cup.”
In addition to a stream of games that will give the Sounders the opportunity to rejoin those teams in the points race, the Sounders also will be putting key players back in the lineup in the coming weeks.
Rosales and Johansson were back in training on Thursday while Fernandez did work on the side after suffering a quad strain just before Seattle’s 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids last week. Fernandez was able to get through more than the club expected, with the hope that he can join the group in training next week and possibly be available when the Sounders meet the Chicago Fire next week.
With Johnson and Fredy Montero still scoreless, the team is eagerly awaiting the return of Rosales, whose midfield playmaking will undoubtedly open up scoring chances for the two explosive forwards, who are developing their cohesiveness more with each passing day.
“It’s developing. It’s going to take a little bit of time,” Schmid said. “I still think that by the end of the year they are going to be one of the most dangerous combinations in this league.”
After a three-day break for the starters, the team is now building toward a difficult stretch in the calendar. They will face the University of Washington in a training game on Saturday at the Starfire practice field and then Chivas USA in Carson, California, in a Reserve League game on Monday, keeping the team in a playing rhythm.
In that game against UW, Rosales and Johansson are expected to play at least part of the 60-minute training game, while Steve Zakuani may see his first action against an MLS opponent in the reserve game on Monday.
All that leads to a treacherous run in the Seattle schedule that will see the Sounders play eight MLS matches in 29 days.
That stretch will open Saturday, April 28 when the Sounders travel to face the Chicago Fire in their only meeting of the year. They will then play three mid-week MLS matches in the month of May, with only one week that features just one match, that coming May 19 in Vancouver in the first match of the Cascadia derby.
The preparation for those matches will come when the team returns to training at Starfire on Thursday.
“Before you know it we’ll be on a plane to Chicago and then it’s game on,” Evans said. “We have 24 points up for grabs, which is something that we’ll all be thinking about when this break is over.”
At the conclusion of that stretch of games, they will enter the US Open Cup in the third round, most likely on May 29.