After a 1-4-1 start and a tough schedule on the horizon, a win against Columbus is needed to help them climb out of cellar.
Nobody is quite calling it a “must win” game, but the Sounders realize Saturday’s home match has quickly taken on added importance.
A rising injury toll, lack of scoring and some even questioning the team’s desire to compete have left the Sounders reeling this week. And now, they begin a stretch of three matches in eight days against strong clubs knowing their 1-4-1 record needs to be bolstered in a hurry.
“We have to perform well, we’re at home,’’ team captain Osvaldo Alonso said of Saturday afternoon’s tilt against the Columbus Crew at CenturyLink Field. “We have to try to get the three points.’’
Columbus @ Seattle, 1 p.m., JOEtv
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said he hates using the “must win’’ term at any stage, but acknowledged his last-place team can’t keep settling for single points or none at all.
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“I hate that term, but yeah, there’s some pressure that we need to win the game, for sure,’’ he said. “Our record’s not where we want it to be. I can say that’s it’s only the beginning of May and there’s — whatever the math is — 28 games left, but we’ve got to start picking up some points.’’
Not to mention, some lost respect.
This has been among the most difficult weeks experienced by the 9-year-old Major League Soccer franchise. An already injury-battered lineup learned it will probably lose center back Roman Torres at least until after this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia with a strained hamstring.
Sounders doctors have said the earliest Torres will be back is four weeks from now, but that’s considered to be an optimistic outlook.
In addition, midfielder Victor Rodriguez is out several more weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery Thursday on his right knee.
Throw in the team not picking up additional firepower by the May 1 spring transfer window closing and some ill-timed comments by general manager Garth Lagerwey, and you’ve got a normally placid fan base on edge. Lagerwey backpedaling this week on comments that the team would likely no longer compete among top MLS spenders has served, at least momentarily, to quell a potential fan uprising.
But things are still very much on edge.
Schmetzer on Friday seemed to underscore how tenuous things still are between fans and the squad. Before beginning his regular interview session with reporters, he made it a point to spell out once again that the team is committed to competing.
He’d emphasized that in heated fashion to reporters earlier in the week and felt compelled to repeat it again in much calmer fashion.
“The other day, I was a little hot under the collar, a little emotional,’’ he said, adding: “I don’t like it when people think that our club can’t and won’t compete. And that’s the reason why I was a little testy. So, I feel better now. But I just want everybody to be, again, on record. This club will compete regardless of Roman’s injury, regardless of Victor’s setback. The players that step on the field know their roles … that’s what I want to see.’’
One of those being called on, in similar fashion to his versatile role from last year, will be midfielder Gustav Svensson, expected to fill in at center back for at least one of the games this week. The Sounders do have Kim Kee-hee and a healthy Chad Marshall for the back line, but it’s unlikely they’ll start all three games.
“I’ve been used to that throughout my career,’’ Svensson said. “I have no problem helping the coach when he asks me to play different positions.’’
After Columbus, the Sounders head to Toronto for a rematch Wednesday of last year’s MLS Cup final. They travel to Portland on Sunday for their first match against their bitter rivals.
In other words, the season can go downhill in a hurry if the Sounders don’t start scoring and logging better results. Svensson won’t call it a must-win, claiming he treats every game that way.
“I hate losing,’’ he said. “No matter when or where, it’s a must-win.’’
Svensson feels the team has been on “the right path’’ communication-wise in recent weeks despite last Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Los Angeles FC. But he adds they could stand to be a little tougher mentally in not giving opportunities to opponents.
Whatever on-field path the team chooses on Saturday, it had best be a competitive one. If not, some of those fans weighing in on social media this week will undoubtedly let the squad hear it.