Sounders FC

Sounders’ recent climb has had Eastern Conference tilt

Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, right, thinks coaching stability may be why the West has outperformed the East.
Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, right, thinks coaching stability may be why the West has outperformed the East. The Associated Press

The Seattle Sounders have 10 points in this Major League Soccer season — nine of them against Eastern Conference opponents.

Through eight games, the Sounders are 0-4-1 against the Western Conference, 3-0 against the East. And they’ve been good Eastern teams at that: a 1-0 win over Eastern leader Montreal, a 2-1 win over No. 2 Philadelphia and a 1-0 win last weekend against defending Eastern champion Columbus.

Seattle’s only point against a Western opponent this season came in a 1-1 draw at Houston. The Sounders hope to add to that Saturday night when the San Jose Earthquakes — currently No. 5 in the West — visit CenturyLink Field.

“We need to do well in conference,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “So far we’ve done OK against the East, and we need to do well going into conference now and playing against the West Coast teams also. Hopefully the confidence we’ve gained in the last five matches is able to carry us into this game as well.”

The Sounders have gone 3-1-1 over their past five matches. That has moved them to 3-4-1 on the season, but only to ninth in the 10-team Western Conference. Things would be different in the East, where 10 points would have them in playoff position and within four points of the lead.

This isn’t new. Since the Sounders joined MLS in 2009, six of the seven MLS Cup champions have come from the West. The one Eastern club to win the MLS Cup — Sporting Kansas City in 2013 — has since shifted into the Western Conference.

In other sports, the strengths of various conferences and divisions usually plays out as a cyclical thing. However, MLS’ power has stuck so stubbornly West that even Schmid is stumped for an explanation.

“I don’t know; it’s tough to say,” he said. “A little bit in terms of coaching stability, where Jason Kreis had a long run at (Real Salt Lake), and Bruce (Arena) has been at L.A., I’ve been here, so you had some consistency I think from that standpoint. Peter (Vermes) has been at Kansas City for a while, Dom (Kinnear) was at Houston. That really added to it. Sometimes when teams aren’t doing as well, there’s more changeover, so that sometimes happens.”

These days, Kinnear is working his magic with San Jose, and that contributes to another trend further strengthening the West: the improvement of teams that missed the playoffs last season. Not only has Colorado jumped from last to first, but Salt Lake and San Jose have worked their way above the playoff red line.

That increases the degree of difficulty for the Sounders, as even weaker Earthquakes teams have tended to have their number. San Jose leads the all-time series 10-6-3, is unbeaten in the past five meetings and took six points from the two matches in Seattle last season.

“A conference game against a team that’s had our number the past year, year and a half,” Seattle captain Brad Evans said. “Difficult team. Fast. Physical. They’re playing for each other. Getting results on the road. So you can’t say enough about that group of guys there.”

Sounders gameday

SEATTLE SOUNDERS (3-4-1; 10 POINTS) VS. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (4-2-3; 15 POINTS)

7 p.m. Saturday, CenturyLink Field

TV: Channel 13. RADIO: 97.3 FM

HEAD TO HEAD: San Jose leads the MLS series, 10-6-3. The teams are even, 5-5-1, at CenturyLink Field. The Quakes are unbeaten in the past five meetings (3-0-2), went 2-0-1 against the Sounders last season and won both matches in Seattle. The teams will meet again Sept. 10 at San Jose.

NOTES: The Sounders are 3-1-1 over their last five matches, while San Jose is 2-1-2. … Seattle is 3-2 at home, the Earthquakes are 0-2-2 away. ... The Quakes have scored in the 80th minute or later in four of their nine games, including their 1-1 draw at Philadelphia last weekend. … Chris Wondolowski leads San Jose with seven goals, which is tied for the league lead. Quincy Amarikwa has 3 assists. Jordan Morris leads Seattle with three goals, and Andreas Ivanschitz has three assists. … Morris has scored in three straight games. The MLS rookie record is goals in four straight games. Morris also is one goal from the Sounders’ rookie record of four goals in a season, set by Steve Zakuani in 2009. … San Jose has three designated players; Simon Dawkins, Innocent and Mathias Perez Garcia. … Former Sounder Cordell Cato (hamstring) is out for San Jose. Amarikwa (hamstring) is questionable. The Sounders reported no regulars unavailable due to injury. ... San Jose midfielder Anibal Godoy is ineligible after receiving two yellow cards last week. … The referee is Alan Kelly.

QUOTE: “Sometimes you just have a team that’s a boogey team for you. That happens all over the world in soccer. … I don’t know. Psychologically you go into it and you think about it. But it’s time for us to change that and leave that behind us.” — Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on San Jose’s success against Seattle.

NEXT: FC Dallas, 6 p.m. Saturday May 14, at Frisco, Texas.

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