Seattle primed for another first vs. second match with Red Bulls in town

Seattle primed for another first vs. second match with Red Bulls in town

It was only two weeks ago that the Sounders were playing Real Salt Lake with first place in MLS on the line.

Sounders FC vs. New York Red Bulls
September 29, 2013, 6 pm PT; CenturyLink Field
TV/Radio: ESPN; 97.3 FM

For the second time in 17 days, Sounders FC will host the leader in the hunt for the Supporters’ Shield on Sunday when the New York Red Bulls come to CenturyLink Field.

After drubbing Real Salt Lake on September 13, Seattle is focused on the opportunity to get back into the top spot and hold it until the end of the season.

“I think our team will be ready. It’s something that we are looking forward to,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’re in a position now where we can see that there is a shot for us to finish as the number one team and this game on Sunday is very important in that regard. I think it will be a great game and a great game for the fans.”

Against then-No. 1 Real Salt Lake, Seattle raced to a 2-0 victory to take over the top spot, but held it for only nine days before the Red Bulls seized it with a 1-0 win over FC Dallas on September 22.

In that match with Salt Lake, Seattle had Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey on the bench after the duo played extensive minutes with the U.S. National Team in World Cup qualifiers in the week before the game. Dempsey’s availability for Sunday is still in question after he suffered a hamstring injury in training last week, but Johnson is back to the starting lineup and undeterred from his scoring ways, notching three goals in his last four starts, including one on Saturday in a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy.

It is games like this that bring out the best in the Seattle forward.

“I like big games. These are what you live for,” Johnson said. “This is where players show their worth. It’s a big occasion and a chance to show who is going to go out there and put it on the line and be consistent and take this team in the direction they want to go.”

The two top-of-the-table teams are meeting for the only time this season and took strikingly similar paths to the top of their conferences.

Both teams started the season slow, with Seattle going winless in its first five matches and New York going winless in its first four. They both had six-game unbeaten streaks early in the season, but have saved their best soccer for the second half of the season, where the Sounders and Red Bulls both have a league-best 26 points since playing their 17th match of the season. However, Seattle has earned those points in two fewer matches, going 8-1-2 since crossing the midway point in the season while New York is 8-3-2. In addition, both are also currently riding long unbeaten streaks, with Seattle going 5-0-1 in its last six and New York winning its last four matches.

Like Seattle, who has three leaders in goals as Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle each have eight goals, the Red Bulls have a three-headed scoring threat. Thierry Henry leads New York with nine goals, while Tim Cahill and Fabian Espindola have eight goals each.

This doesn’t only mark the second time in just over two weeks that as the No. 2 team, Sounders FC has faced the No. 1 team in the league, but it is also the second time in three years that MLS has seen the pairing of the top two teams in the league this late in the season. On September 24, 2011, the LA Galaxy beat the Columbus Crew 1-0 in a table-topping clash at Crew Stadium.

Sunday’s match against the Red Bulls kicks off at 6 pm PT on the Xbox Pitch at CenturyLink Field with national television coverage on ESPN.

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