With the LA Galaxy taking the weekend off, the Sounders game in hand will be a thing of the past come Monday. And despite a rough stretch, Seattle can enter the homestretch just four points behind the current Supporters Shield and Western Conference leaders. With Dallas facing a tough test against Philadelphia at PPL Park, it's conceivable that Seattle could emerge from the weekend in second place. But for that best-case scenario to come to fruition, the Sounders are going to have to get past a Chivas USA side that has quietly put themselves back into position to make a run at a playoff position down the home stretch.
Nick LaBrocca has come seemingly out of nowhere to put together an excellent season for the Goats, tied for the team lead in goals scored and amongst the team leaders in assists. Big young forward Justin Braun has also taken a step forward this season, just two goals behind last season's career high in six fewer games played. Chivas is far from an offensive juggernaut, but they can score some goals and their defense has been well above average on the year. Chivas has been bad enough for long enough that they've come to be something of a mental three points for most teams in MLS, but that's not really the case this season; this one has a bit of a trap feel to it (especially with Communicaciones coming to town on Tuesday night) and the Sounders will need to a strong effort to come away with a win this afternoon.
The Sounders have the edge most of the way around the park, but their occasional struggles at the back and up top are enough of a concern to give Chivas a path towards a win. Seattle's back line has struggled with direct play to big forwards like Braun, and Chivas' big, bruising back four are the kind of unit that have caused serious problems for the Sounders attack this season. They're a difficult unit to unlock, and the longer they can keep things even the tougher things are going to be. This is the kind of game that calls for Seattle to go on the attack from the outset, and though there is danger in that approach Seattle needs to take games like these by the throat early on.
There's little reason to think that the Sounders can't take three points from this game, but any distraction in focus could lead to a pretty massive letdown. Seattle are just seven points shy of last year's total despite having played six fewer games, and though they're almost guaranteed to take a pretty major step forward in terms of the final tally things are still tight enough at the top of the league to make a similar step forward in terms of league position a sure thing. And if you're not keeping up with the opposition, it's hard to consider a superior record real progress. Last year's Sounders had trouble in games such as these. When traps came along, they tended to fall into them just as often as they were avoided. There's reason to think that these Sounders are different, but there's still enough space for a letdown to consider it a sure thing. A win tomorrow would all but guarantee Seattle a playoff spot, but it would also be another sign, even if just a small one, that this team not only expects to win tough games but follows through.