Five months ago, the Sounders were in last place after their worst start to an MLS season.
After Wednesday’s 1-0 home win against Chivas USA, Seattle has risen all the way to the top of the standings in one key measure, 1.72 average points per game. Due to the league’s unbalanced schedule, PPG is often the best indicator to a season’s success, and after a third-straight victory, no one is better than the Sounders.
“We knew that we could get in this position,” said team captain Mauro Rosales. “We never doubted about the quality and ability that this team has.”
The worst-to-first climb of sorts — Seattle is tied for second overall in total points — is the reward of six wins in a seven-game stretch, a first in franchise history. The Sounders have also matched its best record through 25 games at 13-8-4.
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Wednesday’s performance was particularly impressive with five potential starters out injured, suspended or on international duty.
“Certainly some guys stepped up,” said coach Sigi Schmid of the team’s depth.
Forward David Estrada, for example, made his first start since May 8, something he didn’t find out about until a half hour before the game.
The short-handed hosts took the lead for good in the 24th minute, when Lamar Neagle skillfully knocked in a cross from Marc Burch with a dexterous flying-scissors kick after benefiting from a fortuitous bounce.
“The ball dropped right in my lap — literally right in my lap,” Neagle said. “It dropped over somebody’s head, and it was unexpected. I took a bad touch but ended up being able to get my foot up high enough to get it down.”
The goal was Neagle’s sixth this season, setting a personal best and breaking a 505-minute scoreless drought for the Federal Way native. It was also the fourth straight goal for Seattle off a free kick.
Scoring first has been a good omen for the Sounders for the past three seasons as the team improved to 37-0-8 in such games, the longest active unbeaten streak in the league.
Last-place Chivas (5-15-7) looked threatening in its attempts to tie the score in front of 38,317 at CenturyLink Field. The best chance to equalize came in the 68th minute, but Mario de Luna’s shot off a free kick bounced right to goalkeeper Michael Gspurning as the visitors’ road winless streak extended to 12 games.
Gspurning nearly gift-wrapped an opportunity for the Goats at the end, when the ball slipped out of his hands and he illegally picked it back up. The infraction would have resulted in an indirect free kick inside the penalty box, but referee Mark Geiger blew the final whistle instead.
“I was a little bit excited too early,” said Gspurning, who earned his third straight shutout, ninth overall. “If the game wouldn’t have been over, it would’ve been a free kick, to be fair.”
Schmid called it a “smidgen of luck.”
Seattle continued some length streaks with the win, having gone unbeaten in 11 games against Chivas at 7-0-4, winning five in a row, and unbeaten in 11 games at home at 8-0-3, a team record and the second-longest in MLS this season.
The Sounders haven’t allowed a goal in 286 minutes, its longest stretch of the year.
“We made a commitment after the Houston game (a 3-1 loss) that we got to play better defense, and we haven’t given up a goal since then,” said Schmid. “At the end of the day that’s something very important. To win an MLS Cup, we got to be solid in the back.”
• Sounders FC caps a stretch of three games in eight days against Chicago on Saturday at 7 p.m.
• More than 81 percent of Seattle’s total salary was unavailable, led by Clint Dempsey (international duty) and Obafemi Martins (sprained ankle). The two designated players make about $6.5 million combined. Martins underwent a pregame fitness test but ultimately missed his fourth game in a row. Also unavailable were Brad Evans (calf), Eddie Johnson (international duty) and Leo Gonzalez (red-card suspension).
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org