MONTREAL, CANADA - APRIL 28: Bernardo Corradi #23 of the Montreal Impact celebrates his goal with teammates during the MLS matchagainst the Portland Timbers at the Olympic Stadium on April 28, 2012 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Impact defeated the Timber 2-0. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
The Seattle Sounders take on the Montreal Impact for the only time this season with the hopes of ending a four-game league winless streak.
Heading into the two week break in MLS play, the Seattle Sounders were in a bit of a rut. After a red-hot start to the season the club hit a rough patch, an 0-2-2 spell that included a 2-0 home loss to the struggling Columbus Crew that sounded alarm bells for the first time all season. It's easy to forget these struggles; since the whistle blew to signal the end of Seattle's 1-1 draw in LA against Chivas USA, the Sounders have won two consecutive US Open Cup contests by a combined score of 10-1. The key for Seattle will be to make sure that scoring touch is still there once league play begins.
Unquestionably, goals have been the missing ingredient so far this season for the Sounders. Seattle's nine goals allowed on the season is best in the league alongside Sporting Kansas City, but their 16 goals scored is fairly pedestrian, good enough only for 8th in the league; that puts the Sounders behind such offensive dynamos as the New England Revolution and Colorado Rapids. Waiting for what should be a potent attack to click into rhythm has at times been a frustrating affair, and in that sense the one-sided thumpings of the Atlanta Silverbacks and Cal FC were in many ways a relief. Everyone knows that this team has it in them to be one of the league's most dangerous offensive team, but until the Open Cup it hadn't been put on display. Lower level status aside, back-to-back five goal games are at the very least proof of concept.
And though the Montreal Impact are much better than the Silverbacks and Cal FC overall, the jury is still out on whether the same can be said for their defense. The Impact have allowed 21 goals in 12 games, the second highest total in MLS. Montreal has looked quite good at times but at others they've been a disorganized shambles, a clearly talented but young and inexperienced team that can be thrown off of their game quite easily. The Sounders need to do their part to ensure the Impact are made uncomfortable early on, because when Montreal is vulnerable they're very vulnerable. If something clicked in the US Open Cup games, we're likely going to know about it before this game is over.
One wildcard will be the playing surface. This will be the Impact's first game at the newly remodeled Stade Saputo, and the all-new grass field was just installed two weeks ago. The Sounders have not had the opportunity to train on the surface, and how it will hold up with so little time between installation and game time is at least a minor question mark. Ultimately, the odds are quite good that it will not be a factor, but it is something to keep an eye on. Of far greater concern to Seattle will be how they are able to cope without Osvaldo Alonso who will be serving the second game of his two-game suspension. Andy Rose has been impressive this season and performed well in his stead against Chivas USA, but any time Alonso is not in uniform the Sounders are a significantly weaker team. In addition to Alonso, Seattle will be without Michael Gspurning, Adam Johansson, Leo Gonzalez, and Patrick Ianni due to injury. In comparison, the Impact are the picture of health with Hassoun Camara the only player not expected to be available.
This is in many ways a key game for the Sounders. A win will go a long way towards making the struggles of May look like an aberration, while a loss or uninspiring draw will allow the questions to linger. If Seattle continues to drop points from winnable games, Real Salt Lake run and hide in a hurry, and if there was a lesson to be learned from last season it's that maximizing your playoff position can make a huge difference to the way things turn out. It's far too early to consider any game a "must-win" (unless it involves Portland, of course) and it's tough to consider a point on the road a disappointment, but for reasons both tangible and psychological, coming back from the break with a win away from home would be a very important thing.