The Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew each began their season among the usual suspects of Major League Soccer contenders, but both broke from the gate badly.
Seven games in, Columbus hopes it has righted itself, while the Sounders are still searching.
The Crew arrives at CenturyLink Field on Saturday afternoon with confidence from back-to-back wins, while Seattle is coming off of a 3-1 loss at Colorado last weekend. Coach Sigi Schmid said it was his team’s worst performance of the season. It stopped a three-game unbeaten run, but several Sounders were unimpressed with their play even during that positive streak.
“I think if you look at those past three or four games, we’ve not been very good,” defender Tyrone Mears said. “We got results, but we’ve not been very good. I think at the start of the season we were playing very well, but not getting the results. It’s finding that balance now.”
Combining the good and the bad, the fair and the unfair, the Sounders come into this match 2-4-1 and in ninth place in the 10-team Western Conference.
Eastern Conference defending champion Columbus is 2-3-2 and just below the playoff red line in seventh place. However, while the Sounders are still seeking their spark, the Crew believe they might have found something in back-to-back home wins against New York City and Houston.
“In the beginning of the year, we may not have won the games, but the important thing is that now everything is going well,” defender Waylon Francis told ColumbusCrewSC.com. “We are doing a great job switching the ball side to side. I think that is going to be very important in Seattle if we want to play and win that type of game.”
Schmid, who coached Columbus to the MLS Cup in 2008, agrees.
“They’re a good team,” he said. “They’ve gotten off to a slow start, but they’re a team that likes to possess the ball, likes to spread the field, and likes to put their players in. They rely a lot on their pace up front with (Justin) Meram and (Ethan) Finlay and (Kei) Kamara. They look for (Federico) Higuain to knock those guys in.”
For whatever else has gone wrong this season, these teams arrive as the top two teams in the league in terms of passing accuracy: Columbus first, and Seattle right behind.
Schmid is happy about that, but cautions that possession is only a means to an end.
“Obviously keeping the ball and holding onto the ball is something that we always try and do,” Schmid said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to be dangerous as well. I think over the last few games we’ve increased that part of it. I think we’ve let ourselves down at the other end of the field.”
Seattle’s attack should get a boost from the expected return of forwards Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez, who each missed the Colorado match with injuries.
“They’re both very good players,” said homegrown rookie Jordan Morris, who has scored in each of the last two matches. “So when they’re not there, you’re going to notice that. They’re both two good players going forward, and when Clint’s in there, he helps create.”
However, the Sounders will be without captain and central defender Brad Evans, who will serve a one-game suspension after picking up two yellow cards late against the Rapids.
Veteran Zach Scott is expected to step in.
“Over the years, (Scott has) done a lot of work in terms of improving his passing, improving his technical play,” Schmid said. “He’s a much better player with the ball than he’s ever been. He’s an experienced player. But he’s a guy that you know you can rely upon, and he’s always been that from day one. He’s still a competitor.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS (2-4-1; 7 POINTS) VS. COLUMBUS CREW (2-3-2; 8 POINTS)
1 p.m. Saturday, CenturyLink Field
TV: JOEtv. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: Sounders lead 4-3-3. However, the Crew leads 2-1-2 in Seattle, including wins in its last two visits. The Crew won 3-2 last season. Kei Kamara had two goals for Columbus, while Clint Dempsey scored both for Seattle. This is the only scheduled meeting of 2016.
Notes: Columbus has won back-to-back matches, both at home. The Sounders are coming off of a 3-1 loss at Colorado that coach Sigi Schmid called their worst of the season. … These are the top two teams in MLS in passing accuracy: Columbus 82.3 percent, Seattle 81.9. … The Sounders are 2-2 at home; the Crew is 0-2-2 away. … Columbus is the defending Eastern Conference champion. … Schmid coached Columbus from 2006-08. Centerback Chad Marshall played there for a decade. Seattle captain Brad Evans also got his MLS start in Columbus. However, Evans will be out today, serving a one-game suspension after receiving two yellow cards against the Rapids. Zach Scott is expected to start in his place. … Seattle midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz (thigh) is out. DP forwards Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez are expected to return after sitting out last weekend with injuries. … Seattle homegrown rookie Jordan Morris has scored in the last two matches. … The Sounders remind attending fans to consider allowing extra arrival time due to the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and MLS’ elevated security standards that now prohibit bags larger than 14 by 14 by 6 inches. Also, the Seattle Mariners have a 7:10 p.m. game at Safeco Field. … The referee is Juan Guzman.
Quote: “They’re a good attacking team. They’ve got some good physical qualities on their team. They play an aggressive brand of soccer where they go at you, but that also leaves them exposed at times.” — Schmid on the Crew.
Next: San Jose Earthquakes, 7 p.m. May 7, CenturyLink Field.