Back in June when the Sounders FC fell 2-1 to the Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid did not mince words.
“They’re at the crossroads where they need to decide which team they are,” Schmid said of a team that started the season 7-1-1, but were winless in seven straight after falling to Portland.
Schmid had reason to be displeased with the performance. For the seventh straight match, the Sounders fell behind in the match, this time going down two goals to nil in the first 25 minutes. It wasn’t until the 58th minute that Eddie Johnson was finally able to get Seattle on the board, but the early deficit proved too much to overcome.
“That was expressed to the players at that point – that we weren’t happy about their performance and that things needed to change,” Schmid said this week. “Obviously the guys responded and have responded very well.”
Since that moment, they have rediscovered their early-season form and been one of the most dominant teams in Major League Soccer. They are 6-1-4 in their last 11 MLS matches and 10-1-5 across all competitions.
While some were reluctant to call the loss in Portland earlier this season the nadir of the season, in hindsight it was certainly a turning point.
Just 48 hours after that match, the Sounders took the field against the league-leading San Jose Earthquakes in the US Open Cup quarterfinals, grinding out a 1-0 victory on the road, a win that did a lot to right the ship for the Sounders.
“Everybody goes through ups and downs. We hit a low point and now we’re going to have to maintain this if we want to find ourselves advancing in the playoffs and looking toward the playoffs,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “But right now, all eyes are on Saturday.”
This week, they’ll have the chance to right that wrong from June when they meet the Timbers again at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday in nationally televised match on NBC.
Since that June match, the Sounders have gotten eight goals from Eddie Johnson and seven from Fredy Montero to springboard their forward duo to the top five on the MLS scoring charts. They have also seen the return of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning from injury and the Austrian shot-stopper has posted two shutouts in seven matches since his return while allowing seven goals.
That has propelled them to the third- best record in MLS, within striking distance of the San Jose Earthquakes in the top spot. A win on Saturday would go a long way toward keeping them in the hunt for the Supporters’ Shield.
“There’s a number of things still on the line. So for us to achieve any of those goals that we’ve set for ourselves, we have to win,” Evans said. “That’s pressure that we’ve put on ourselves and something over the last six-seven weeks we’ve dealt with admirably. We walked away with zero points last game and that’s not good enough. It’s a little bit about revenge, but also knowing that we can play better.”
With a win on Saturday, the Timbers would clinch the Cascadia Cup. If the Sounders needed any extra motivation, that is it, as Portland has never won the Cascadia Cup in the six years that it has been contended when all three teams are eligible.
“We’re not ready to give the Cascadia Cup away yet,” Schmid said. “Our objective always is to win our head-to-head series. This is still a season series that we still want to win, so we’re not going to give it away Saturday.”
Kickoff is set for 12:30pm PT with national television coverage on NBC and the local radio broadcast on 97.3 KIRO FM.