The Sounders FC is at a stage in the season where each match is of very high importance.
When they play three games in eight days and start with their rivalry match against the Portland Timbers and that is arguably the least important of the three matches, you know it’s a tough week.
The rest of that gauntlet includes a trip to Honduras to take on Marathon in a CONCACAF Champions League group stage match and a pivotal home match against the top-seeded San Jose Earthquakes in MLS play on Saturday.
On Wednesday, Sigi Schmid did some roster calculus and made several changes to his starting lineup to balance the three matches and the Sounders completed the second leg of the three matches with a 3-2 victory over Marathon to clinch a berth in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
That he was able to do it without many of his top players made the victory that much more impressive.
“I was really proud,” Schmid said. “Obviously we put a lot of players out there who aren’t regularly in our starting lineup, but I thought they came through and they played very, very well.”
Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert were left in Seattle to rest injuries while Steve Zakuani was resting after making three consecutive starts for the Sounders and Adam Johansson had only recently returned from World Cup qualifiers in Europe with Sweden. Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Fredy Montero were on the bench for Seattle and all came on in the second half to help the cause in the win.
That opened the door for Sammy Ochoa to come up big.
In the 11th minute, he scored on a header off a cross from Mario Martinez to give the Sounders an early 1-0 lead and played well enough the rest of the way that Schmid singled him out after the match, saying he was “very good tonight.”
Ochoa’s goal marked his third straight Champions League match with a goal and gives him seven across all competitions.
“I’m just there at the right time, taking my chances and making them count,” Ochoa said of his Champions League success. “If it’s this tournament where I’m getting the playing time, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
The win over Marathon extends Seattle’s unbeaten streak to seven matches and moves them to 8-1-3 in their last 12 matches. Their only loss in that stretch came on a stoppage time goal by the San Jose Earthquakes on August 11.
The matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference should surely be as hardly fought as their first two matches, which both ended in wins for San Jose.
“For us, it’s a good confidence booster going into this weekend, especially with a big one coming up for us,” Evans said. “This win under our belt will help us along the way, I think, in the long run. Putting in the effort tonight that the guys put in—we got to rest some guys and some guys got to stretch their legs a little bit tonight, also.”
Schmid pulls no punches in stating his team’s goals for Saturday evening.
“We want to win. It’s a six-point game against San Jose,” Schmid said. “We need to get three points here to put ourselves in serious contention for the Western division title and keep our distance from the Galaxy and the teams chasing up behind us, as well. It’s definitely a six-point game, it’s a big game, and it’s great we were able to rest some guys.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm Pacific from CenturyLink Field with television coverage on KONG 6/16. The match was originally scheduled for Sunday, but was rescheduled to Saturday.