A win would leapfrog the Sounders over the 'Quakes into seventh, another rung up the Western Conference standings within easily accessible reach. Yet in this league, there's always a caveat.
Saturday night’s match against the Earthquakes at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium is exceedingly winnable from a Sounders perspective.
San Jose has coughed up chance after chance to make a serious move in the West. It lost at home to last-place Houston last month, drew against the dreadful Revolution a few days later. The ‘Quakes have won just one league game since mid-July and just two since May 11.
The seventh-place ‘Quakes are a few points out of the postseason by virtue only of a fast start and long spells of incompetence by those around them. This is a team — a playoff contender, remember — that just fired its general manager because, as its president told CSN Bay Area, its style of play is “kind of boring.” An advertisement for Major League Soccer, this crew is not.
The Sounders are, in relative terms at least, playing well. The 4-2 loss to Portland was a downer, sure, but the Timbers have since failed to increase the separation in the playoff race. Seattle is 3-1-2 since interim coach Brian Schmetzer took over from Sigi Schmid in late July and the club signed playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro. It is more talented than San Jose and in better form.
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A win would leapfrog the Sounders over the ‘Quakes into seventh. Another rung up the Western Conference standings is within easily accessible reach.
All Seattle has to do is keep Chris Wondolowski in check. In this league, there’s always a caveat.
Wondolowski has tormented the Sounders like few others. The veteran forward has scored nine goals against Seattle, more than any other player in its MLS history. Wondolowski may have missed that chance for the U.S. against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup, but he’s seldom been as wasteful when playing against the Sounders.
He is a player whose game is best appreciated in person. Wondolowski has such good spacial awareness, the personification of right-place-at-the-right-time. Lose focus for even a split second, and there he is, darting into the pocket of open space your defender didn’t notice until too late.
For the understandable grudge still carried against him by USMNT fans, Wondo is the fourth-leading all-time scorer in MLS — and only active player in the top 10 with 118 goals in 251 games — for a reason.
“I think it’s another one of those odd coincidences,” Schmetzer said of Wondolowski’s goal record against Seattle. “Maybe he likes playing at CenturyLink. … But ever since I’ve been watching him play, he’s been a competitive player. The guy wants to win, and that’s a quality I really like about him. In any game, not just against us, he’s up for the battle. He’s up for the fight.
“If you’re not smart, if you’re not strong, if you’re not aware of Wondo, he can burn you.”
The good news for Seattle is that it’ll be mostly at full strength — with the glaring exception of forward Clint Dempsey, who is still out indefinitely while undergoing evaluations for an irregular heartbeat.
The back line is healthy, as is the midfield. Schmetzer actually has a surplus of options in defense, with center back Roman Torres having recovered from his ACL injury to challenge incumbent starters Brad Evans and Chad Marshall. There are plenty of signs pointing in Seattle’s direction ahead one of the pivotal matches of its season.
But in this league, there’s always a caveat.