The Seattle Sounders are at Columbus to take on the Crew, the leaders in the MLS East. The last meeting of the teams, at Qwest Field, ended in a 1-1 draw. But this match just might carry more significance: This is the preview of the U.S. Open Cup final, set to be played in Seattle on October 5, with the Sounders trying to take the trophy for the second year in a row.
But the Sounders don't need to focus on the Cup tonight. They don't need to think about the CONCACAF Champions League, particularly not after their loss on Wednesday to Saprissa. The entire attention, of both the players and Sigi Schmid, needs to be on picking up points in the league. Currently, Seattle are sitting in eighth place in MLS, with 33 points and six matches to go.
While it seems unlikely that Seattle will fail to pick up any points in their final matches, or that Toronto, Kansas City, or Chivas USA will go on rampant winning streaks and take the eighth slot, odder things have happened. After all, in July, the Sounders were counted as all but eliminated from the playoffs.Miracles do happen, and the Sounders shouldn't assume that they're through to the post-season.
Speaking of July, the last time Seattle won a match on the road was July 31st, a 1-0 win over San Jose. Fredy Montero scored the winner then, and it's Montero that will be pivotal in this match, as well. In order for that to happen, he can't be played at the front of the formation. Montero needs the space that a true forward, a target man, provides, in order to play his tricky best.
Fortunately, it seems that Blaise Nkufo has recovered from his knee injury, and will hopefully start this match. Although some question whether he's been a valuable acquisition for the team, it's his presence at the front that's made a huge impact, allowing Montero the space he needs to perform. And while James Riley receives criticism for often playing too far forward and neglecting his defensive duties, he's still the best option for right back. Out for the past two matches with a knock to the ankle, the fact that he traveled with the team is a positive.
For a comprehensive look at the Columbus Crew, and what Sounders supporters can expect from them tonight, see Jeremiah Oshan's preview on Sounder at Heart.