CARSON, CA - MAY 26: Mauro Rosales #10 of the Seattle Sounders turns away from Laurent Courtois #16 of Chivas USA to pursue the ball in the first half of the MLS match at The Home Depot Center on May 26, 2012 in Carson, California. The Sounders and Chivas USA played to a 1-1 draw. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
A slipping Real Salt Lake has given the Sounders an opportunity to claim a virtual tie for second place in the MLS Western Conference, but the Goats have lived up to their nickname this season making three points far from a foregone conclusion.
Looking at the numbers alone, Chivas doesn't seem like the kind of club that gives their opposition much to worry about. With 27 points, they're 10 points out of the last playoff spot. Their 15 goals scored are 9 fewer than the next lowest-scoring side. Only three players on the team have scored more than once. But despite their shortcomings, this is a side that has frustrated many a quality opponent this season. The Goats defensive organization, quality in possession, and exemplary goalkeeping of Dan Kennedy make them very tough to break down, and though they don't pose much of a threat in the attacking phase the margins are almost always slim enough to keep games in doubt. In a contest that means little without three points, the Sounders will have their work cut out for them.
Luckily for Seattle, the odds of fielding a full-strength attack seem high; as of yet, Eddie Johnson, Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales, and Christian Tiffert have been on the pitch at the same time for just 50 minutes. On Saturday, all indications are that the Sounders attacking core will start the game together for the first time. The Sounders haven't exactly struggled to create in recent weeks, but having their full compliment of creative players and goal-scoring threats from the start will undoubtedly give things a bit of a different look. And with the playoffs right around the corner, the style of play employed by Chivas will give Seattle a look at the kind of tactical approach to come.
With Real Salt Lake winless in their last four, the Sounders have closed a once sizable gap and can draw even on points (though still behind in the all-of-a-sudden important goals scored department) with a win at the Home Depot Center. With the LA Galaxy managing only a draw with the Columbus Crew mid-week, three points would go a very long way towards helping Seattle avoid the play-in round of the MLS Cup playoffs. There's even the outside possibility that the Sounders could once again find themselves back in the Supporters Shield discussion should other results break right, and all of this before Seattle's games-in-hand advantage over the majority of their rivals is taken into account.
This isn't the kind of match that feels big, but in so many ways it's absolutely massive. Chivas USA isn't a direct rival at the moment, and in a sense that makes this result all the more important. When looking into the future (always a mistake in a league as tight as MLS) this game is likely mentally chalked up as a win for the Sounders. Any scenario that sees Seattle making yet another late run at the Supporters Shield would certainly require three points from Chivas; similarly, any assumptions that the Sounders have all but locked up a top-three finish would be counting on the same. But Chivas USA is a bit trickier a proposition than their record might indicate. The Sounders are good enough that being expected to win is imminently reasonable. But with a team as resolute as the Goats, it's difficult to feel completely confident.