Thursday, April 29, 2010

SOUNDERS FC: 2008 MLS Champs visit Qwest on Saturday

Lets be honest, the Sounders are not so hot right now. Their 2-2-2 record over the season’s first six games puts them squarely in the realm of mediocrity. The team ESPN had picked to win it all in 2010 has allowed six goals in the last four matches as they head toward one of the toughest stretches of their young season.

The Sounders currently sits in third place in the Western Conference and the next two teams they face, the Columbus Crew and L.A. Galaxy, are the only teams in MLS who remain undefeated. This week will be a litmus test for the rest of the season. A victory over Columbus on Saturday followed by a win over the red-hot Galaxy next week could boost a floundering Sounders team back to relevance.

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Seattle has the tools needed to beat the 2008 MLS champions and with a little luck, Columbus might just give the Sounders a pre-game advantage. The Crew is contemplating weather or not to start their aging Argentine star, Guillermo Barros Schelotto. The team’s leading scorer has missed portions of the last two seasons due to recurring hamstring injuries. In the past, coaches have kept Schelotto out of games played on artificial turf for fear of re-aggravating the injury.

“I haven’t talked to [our coach] yet,” Schelotto said after training on Tuesday. “I don’t know what he is thinking but I want to play. We only play three games. Other teams have played four, five, six games. It’s important for the best people to play but the coach may think it’s better not to play. He’s the boss.”

Not having Schelotto in the lineup is not necessarily a bad thing for the Crew. They were 3-0 and outscored opponents 5-2 when Schelotto sat out in 2008. Last season, they went 6-0 and held a 15-5 goal advantage when he did not play. When the forward/midfielder plays as a reserve, the Crew is 1-1-1 (3-2 in goals). However, their run of success was put to the test during the 2009 MLS Cup semi-finals when the Crew, sans-Schelotto, was defeated by Real Salt Lake on their way to a league championship.

When looking at the history between the two teams, the Sounders have a slight advantage over their mid-western opponents. Of the two games played in 2009 between the Crew and the Sounders, Seattle had the only victory, a 1-0 win at Crew Stadium. That win snapped the Crew’s MLS-record 22-game home win streak. The teams have also played to a 1-1 draw at Qwest Field during their first meeting on May 30, 2009.

The key to a Sounders victory on Saturday will be to control the match. Last weekend in Toronto, Seattle gave away too many possessions due to poor passing. Seattle must stay patient with the ball, look for teammates who are open up field and make wise, precise passes. All too often, we see wasteful backwards passes instead of constant, relaxed forward pressure. If the Sounders can slow down their pace, they have an opportunity to grab three points from the last undefeated team in the Eastern Conference.

Reach Galen Helmgren at