Ramping it up against the rivals
It is time for the Major League Soccer season to really heat up. A quick glance at the Western Conference Standings will show you that Seattle Sounders are now heading in to the final third of their campaign, starting with Sunday’s potential blockbuster against Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers. It is around this point where the Sounders have traditionally come on strong. Since entering the league in 2009, only LA Galaxy have posted a better record in the second half of the season. Three wins in the last four games suggest the trend will continue. But if they are to continue their rise the Sounders will have to improve upon a relative weakness - beating their potential Western Conference playoff opposition.
The West looks like a six-way carve-up between the Sounders, Real Salt Lake, Colorado, Vancouver, Portland and LA Galaxy. With 10 of Seattle’s 12 remaining regular season games coming against Western Conference opposition there will be an obvious double incentive for victory – not only to win but to also deny precious points for their rivals. This is when things get interesting. Take a look at the tables below, showing the Sounders points-per-game record against three different types of opposition; the teams above and below them in the Western Conference and their record against the East.
Record against teams above Seattle in the Western Conference
|Real Salt Lake
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Points per game: 2.14
Record against teams below Seattle in the Western Conference
|San Jose Earthquakes
Against Eastern Conference opposition – 1.57PPG
Seattle’s best results have, logically, come against teams below them in the West (2.14PPG). Their return against the East (1.57PPG) also stands above coach Sigi Schmid’s target of 1.5 points per game (evened out across the season) but the return against the best in the West (1.00PPG) is lagging behind. From here on in lies the challenge. Seven of the final 12 matches will be against teams above them in their conference. That includes tricky home and away matches against double-defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy and two games against the Timbers.
It makes for a tough end of season run-in but since the Sounders’ last game against a team above them in the West, the July 20th draw with Colorado, plenty has changed and as such I would expect that points-per-game return to rise. At this point of the season momentum is crucial and the Sounders are gathering it – evidenced by three straight wins before a defeat at Houston which could quite easily have gone either way. There has been the addition of arguably the best player in Major League Soccer, Clint Dempsey, who is well versed in making an impact in the big games. There is no doubt he will make Seattle a better team. Designated player Obafemi Martins has now had time to adjust to the rigours of Major League Soccer, having had an injury-troubled beginning to his career in the Pacific Northwest. Throw in Lamar Neagle and Eddie Johnson and the team has a triumvirate of strikers who have the potential to overpower any defence in MLS.
The end of season schedule has undoubtedly offered up a series of high quality contests. It is where Seattle will need to show some of their best form.