Another big test for Sounders in New York Red Bulls

Another big test for Sounders in New York Red Bulls

The Eastern Conference squad will provide stiff opposition for a Seattle team that has eyes on first place in MLS.

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

In the current unbalanced format of the MLS schedule, Eastern Conference teams meet Western Conference teams only once each season. So far, Sounders FC has been among the best in the West in inter-conference games and on Sunday will host the New York Red Bulls in the final match against an East opponent of the regular season.

“All of those games are important,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s important from the standpoint of the season series, but it’s also important from the standpoint of the Supporters’ Shield and also our playoff positioning in the West.”

Only the Vancouver Whitecaps FC (7-2-1) has a better record against the Eastern Conference than Seattle’s 5-2-2 record and the West holds a distinct 40-25-21 edge over the East. Sounders FC’s success against the East has allowed it to reach the top of the Western Conference standings and put it within one point of New York for the overall lead.

The Red Bulls, meanwhile, are just 3-4-1 against the West, making most of their hay against their own conference.

Regardless of how they got there, the two teams both have the same goal in mind – win the game and take a stronger hold on the top spot.

“It’s an important game for us. We’re fighting for first place in MLS,” Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso said. “Our focus is to keep winning. We want to win the Supporters’ Shield and after that, MLS Cup. Our goal is to keep the rhythm and keep playing like we’re playing.”

While it is a clash of the top two teams in MLS entering the weekend’s action, both teams appear that they won’t be at full strength.

For Seattle, Clint Dempsey is still nursing a hamstring injury, Leo Gonzalez is getting a rest and Zach Scott is suspended for his red card on Saturday in a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy. Schmid indicated on Friday that he hopes to have Dempsey in training on Saturday and will determine his availability then, also noting that Gonzalez may find himself in the 18-man matchday roster.

Throughout the season, Schmid has needed to utilize the team’s depth, so he is not concerned if he can’t have those three on Sunday.

“There are always positives because guys get playing time and guys get opportunities to showcase themselves,” Schmid said. “For us, it’s been good and it’s allowed different players to step in.”

Likewise, New York Head Coach Mike Petke said on Friday that he would not bring star forward Thierry Henry and top defender Jamison Olave to CenturyLink Field. While those absences may impact the Red Bulls, they are not a concern of Schmid and Seattle.

“We’ve got to play against the guys who are on the field. Whoever they put on the field is our opponent for that particular day,” Schmid said. “We’re not worrying about the guys who are not on the field.”

The guys who will be on the field are a talented team. Without Henry, they are still potent in the attack, with Tim Cahill and Fabian Espindola each contributing eight goals on the season.

However, in the absence of their top contributor in goals and assists and best defender, New York is more likely to play in a defensive stance to attempt to slow the frenetic pace of Seattle’s attack.

“They’re a motivated, energized team, but they might play it a little bit close to the vest in terms of making it difficult for us to break them down,” Schmid said.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 pm PT from CenturyLink Field, with national television coverage on ESPN.

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