Chad Marshall

MLS returns from break as Sounders and D.C. United meet in matchup of first-place teams

After a three-week break from MLS action, Sounders FC will look to continue their hot start to the 2014 season against D.C. United on Saturday at RFK Stadium. What would have been a far from intriguing matchup last year, when D.C. finished with the worst record in MLS, is now a meeting of the league's top two teams as the West’s top team in Seattle meets the East’s best in D.C.

While Seattle has seen a transformation with a few key changes, United has seen an overhaul that has lifted it from 16 points all last season to 25 through 15 matches.

“D.C. is a completely different team than they were last year,” Sounders FC defender Zach Scott said. “It’s a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence and that’s a dangerous team.”

The addition of seven MLS veterans to the starting lineup has turned the tide for D.C. with changes all over the field. In the attack, Eddie Johnson and Chris Rolfe have helped change some of the focus, but Fabian Espindola has been a revelation with seven goals and eight assists. Espindola won’t be available against Seattle because of a knee injury, but his contribution over those first 15 matches has meant a world of a difference for a team that got its top scoring contribution in the form of own goals in 2013.

In the midfield Davy Arnaud has provided a veteran presence to a youthful group while the back four has seen a complete renovation in front of Bill Hamid. Former Sounder Jeff Parke and two-time MLS Cup finalist Bobby Boswell now combine in the middle with two-time MLS Cup winner Sean Franklin on the right and MLS newcomer Christian Fernandez on the left.

With that roster turnover, D.C. is fifth in the league in goals allowed and sixth in goals scored to hold a 7-4-4 record, this after an 0-2-1 start.

“It’s a tough match. They’re in good form right now. They’re a team that’s played very well,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “They’ve improved themselves defensively and they’re a team that commands a lot of respect. We have to be ready to play.”

While Sounders FC is prepared for a tough battle against a top-caliber opponent, that’s not change from any other match – a mentality that helped reach a 10-3-2 record to lead MLS through the first 15 matches.

“It’s another game against a good opponent. That’s what we’re looking at it as,” Scott said.

Sounders FC has recent experience playing a 1 vs. 2 matchup, dominating Real Salt Lake in a 4-0 victory at CenturyLink Field on May 31.

“Every single team in the league is very competitive and D.C. is very good,” said midfielder Gonzalo Pineda, who scored at RFK Stadium in the 2008 SuperLiga in a 2-1 win for Chivas de Guadalajara over D.C. United. “It’s a big pitch and we must have an advantage because we play good on that kind of field.”

Saturday’s match kicks off at 4 pm PT, with television coverage on JOEtv locally in Seattle and ROOT Sports in the region.