Nine points in the MLS Supporters’ Shield standings. A semifinal berth in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. And a chance to garner some experience against a top-flight club in world soccer.
On the surface, that’s all that’s on the line in a busy month for Sounders FC, but a deeper view shows much more at stake as Seattle enters a pivotal month on the calendar in July.
Monday’s World Cup Round of 16 match for Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin and the U.S. National Team served as the precursor to an eventful month for Sounders FC. Seattle will face three Western Conference rivals in Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the Portland Timbers and the LA Galaxy, with the biggest of those rivals – Portland – in another match in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup. If that wasn’t enough, Sounders FC will also face Tottenham Hotspur from the English Premier League in an international friendly at CenturyLink Field.
“All of these Western Conference rivals are coming one after another,” said Sounders FC Sporting Director Chris Henderson. “Vancouver is a really good side this year and they gave us a tough game when we played up there last time. We’re going to be challenged going up there on the fifth. The Portland games get hectic at times because they are so intense and the crowd is so into it. It’ll be another test of four games in a row where we’re a target. We have to make sure we’re consistent. We’re going to have to keep focus on those three points one game at a time, especially with those games at home. With our home crowd we have to make sure we keep bringing the energy.”
The run of foes starts on Saturday against Vancouver, who played Seattle to a 2-2 draw in their first meeting on May 24. The Whitecaps used an eight-match unbeaten streak (3-0-5) to climb to fifth in the Western Conference at 5-3-7 due in large part to a standout start from midfielder Pedro Morales.
Next up is a pair of matches against the Timbers, starting with the Open Cup match on July 9, followed by the second match of the year that will feature expanded capacity at CenturyLink Field on July 13. Portland had a horrid start, going winless through eight matches, but has since climbed out of that hole with a 4-2-3 record since.
Finally in league play, Seattle will host the LA Galaxy for the first meeting of the year between the two juggernauts.
“It’s definitely going to be a test. We’re going to have to show the character we’ve shown before. I think all the guys realize that and know that it’s going to be an important month for us,” said midfielder Lamar Neagle. “We’re ready to get back into it, as we’ve shown. I don’t think we’ve let up. We’re still getting results and we’ve shown a lot of character. This is going to be a great test for us.”
On July 19, the club will host Tottenham in a friendly, bringing in a club that finished sixth in the Premier League last season led by the 10 goals from Emmanuel Adebayor. Tottenham joins a list of European visitors to Seattle that already includes Chelsea, Barcelona, Celtic and Manchester United.
Adding to the intrigue of the schedule is the return of Dempsey and Yedlin from an outstanding World Cup run.
Dempsey scored 30 seconds into the opening match and finished the tournament with two goals. The U.S. captain, Dempsey became the first American to score in three World Cup tournaments when he scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win over Ghana.
Meanwhile Yedlin continued his emergence as a rising star in American soccer. He made two late appearances in the Group Stage, then featured prominently as an injury replacement in the Round of 16 match against Belgium when Fabian Johnson had to be taken off with a hamstring strain.
Though they are unlikely to play against Vancouver at BC Place on July 5, once Dempsey and Yedlin do return to the lineup, it will be a great addition for Seattle, who went 4-0-1 in their absence.
“They’re just going to give another surge of energy and a boost to the guys who will be so happy to have them back,” Henderson said. “I think it’s exciting for the fans to see our national team guys come back. We hope that’s the push we need of the second half of the season, and that we can continue on and be driven towards winning this league and winning our conference. I think that’s the focus – to get that home field advantage in the playoffs.”
Seattle has a 10-point cushion in the Supporters’ Shield standings with an 11-3-2 record.
In addition to the exploits of the first team, the Sounders FC Academy also has a big month ahead, with the U-18 playing in the USSDA national quarterfinals on Monday at Starfire against the Montreal Impact U-18s.