CARSON, CA - AUGUST 25: Fredy Montero #17 of Seattle Sounders FC celebrates his second half goal with Adam Johansson #5 during the MLS match against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center on August 25, 2012 in Carson, California. The Seattle Sounders won 6-2. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Getty Images)
With the gift of a surprise Real Salt Lake loss to the Houston Dynamo on Thursday, the Seattle Sounders have an opportunity to put themselves in a position of strength heading into the MLS stretch run.
For much of the season, the Seattle Sounders have been able to look at their place in the middle of a tight Western Conference playoff race and take comfort in the fact that they held multiple games in hand over their rivals. As a participant in the only MLS match of the weekend, one of those games in hand will be disappearing. With Real Salt Lake faltering mid-week against the Houston Dynamo, the Sounders have a golden opportunity to make it count.
Based on the last meeting between these two sides (and Chivas USA's recent form in general,) that wouldn't appear to be an especially difficult task. It was just two weeks ago that Seattle put 6-2 a thumping on the Goats, starting a brutal but ultimately successful road trip on a positive note. In all, Chivas is winless since July 28th and their once formidable defense has crumbled over that stretch. In four games in August Chivas has allowed 14 goals, or 35% of their season total. Including the US Open Cup semifinal, the Goats have been outscored by the Sounders 11-4 in their three meetings this season. On paper, this should be an easy three points for Seattle.
Realistically, however, it's not so simple as that. Despite the Sounders dominance in their 6-2 victory, some called it one of their worst defensive performances of the season. Had Chivas been able to finish the many chances they created, the scoreline could have looked much different. And though Seattle emerged from Dallas with a hard-earned point last week, some of the same defensive shortcomings were on display; if not for several world-class saves by Michael Gspurning and last-ditch covering tackles, that game could have had a very different outcome in its own right. It's also worth considering that Chivas USA's attack is showing signs of life. Though they were only able to capitalize twice against the Sounders the Goats looked significantly more dangerous than they had at almost any point all season, and they built on that performance to bag three goals against the New England Revolution last week, fighting back from a 3-0 deficit to claim a hard-fought point on the road.
That's not to suggest that the Sounders are anything but heavy favorites. But an improving Chivas team playing under very little pressure is exactly the kind of side that so often picks up surprise results in MLS. A let-down against Chivas wouldn't necessarily be disastrous, but it would make life significantly easier on Real Salt Lake and up the pressure on Seattle to pick up points down a very difficult homestretch.
Seattle will largely be at full-strength, though news emerged today that Mauro Rosales will be a game-time decision with a mild quadriceps injury. With a week to recover from a long road trip and a miserable 90-minutes in the Texas heat, fatigue is unlikely to be a factor; the Sounders need to keep the momentum that they built with a strong August moving as the playoffs edge closer and big tests loom on the horizon. And though Chivas USA may not be as much of a pushover as they seem, a failure to claim three points against them at home will raise some very reasonable questions.