Sounders right back Brad Evans says the team's game Saturday versus Real Salt Lake is a "must win" affair they have to use as a home springboard to turn their season back around.
Fewer than three months into the Major League Soccer season and veteran right back Brad Evans says his Sounders face a “must win” game on Saturday against Real Salt Lake.
The Sounders are coming off a pair of road losses in which they got outscored a combined 7-1 and fell to 2-5-4 on the season, good only for second-to-last place in the Western Conference. And while there’s still plenty of season to go, it risks getting late real early unless the Sounders can start winning games — especially at home.
“Without really talking about it, this is a must win game for us,” Evans said. “We’ve got to right the ship. It puts pressure on us, but it’s welcomed pressure. We’ve been in this situation before. We should feel that pressure in front of our fans, in our home stadium. That should be the pressure that we feed off of and pushes us to that next level to get out of there with a good result.”
The Sounders would never say so out loud, but Real Salt Lake is exactly the type of team they should be using as a spring board to better things. At 3-7-2, with just one more point than the Sounders, the Salt Lake side has a conference-worst minus-12 goal differential and isn’t exactly a powerhouse.
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Though the Sounders saw their home unbeaten streak end at 14 in a recent 1-0 loss to Toronto, these are exactly the types of games they’ve used to climb out of trouble before. And make no mistake: A side that spent the pre-season talking about how it couldn’t bury itself too deep in another hole like last year finds itself on the verge of serious problems if it can’t start winning home games.
Evans played sparingly in the 4-1 loss in Chicago and 3-0 defeat at Kansas City last week and admits he likely can’t go a full 90 minutes just yet as he fights back from a pre-season leg injury. With Roman Torres also still hurting, the Sounders have struggled all year for consistency on their back line.
And while they played strongly in the first halves of both losses last week, the strain of juggling so many defenders around for weeks appeared to catch up to them. A big lapse against Sporting KC occured when the Sounders yielded three goals in 15 minutes to Gerso Fernandes early in the second half. That was similar to a three-goals-in-16-minutes breakdown in Chicago after the Sounders had entered the second half tied 1-1.
“I think once they scored one, they smelled blood,” Evans said of the Kansas City game. “And their coach was yelling ‘Go! Go! Go!’ And they fed off of that and they created some opportunities off of bounces and mistimed clearances. And they fed off of those. Those are all types of things that you do at home and you hope the other team gives you.”
Evans cautioned that he wasn’t actually on the field until late and didn’t really have a senese of all that played in to the letdown. But he added that it’s time for the team to step things up.
“I think first and foremost we all know there are ups and downs in a season and that the ship can right itself,” he said. “That starts at home. It starts with a conference opponent. I mean, there are a number of things as to why this is a big game. To get on a good hot streak, it’s got to start somewhere.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said it’s still too early to call any game a “must win” but knows where Evans is coming from.
“He’s been frustrated because he’s such a team guy and he wants the team to do well and he can’t help,” Schmetzer said. “So, I think that’s probably why he’s a little more emotional about it. I think for us, if we perform up to our abilities, we will get results.”
Up until the past two games, Schmetzer and several players had said they’d felt they were playing up to their abilities but just not finishing off scoring chances. But last week marked a departure from that, where the team found itself on the end of some lopsided scores.
“I think we had some poor defending moments the last couple of games,” Schmetzer said.
Though they kept things close for a half in each, Schmetzer said the go-ahead second half goals “seemed to bring us down a little” to where they couldn’t recover. The Sounders have certainly contended with their share of early injuries, including a quad problem that sidelined Osvaldo Alonso for the KC game. A red card suspension to Joevin Jones also didn’t help on a night when Clint Dempsey was already being given a rest.
But Schmetzer realizes that merely keeping games close for a while isn’t going to cut it with his team now drifiting to the bottom of the conference pack just as it did a year ago. And expecting the team to overcome such a deficit two seasons in a row isn’t something Schmetzer wants to bank on.
“None of us — the players, the coaching staff, anybody in this organization — likes the record we have,” he said. “But it’s reality. So, we’re trying to work through it.”