It didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but given the often frustrating nature of the first half of the Seattle Sounders season it might come as a surprise that the team is performing as well as any in the league at the moment. The Sounders have picked up eleven points over their past five, bringing them back into the discussion of possible Supporters Shield contenders, and they enter this afternoon's match against the Revolution riding a two game winning streak. The Sounders have exactly been without their problems over the past month or so but they've been grinding out results when necessary and playing largely solid soccer with Sigi Schmid seeming to settle in to a preferred rotation and tactical approach.
The Revolution, meanwhile, are at the moment in shambles. Winless since a 1-0 victory over Vancouver on May 14th, New England have picked up just two points in their past five and have recently come under scrutiny for the controversy surrounding last week's clash between supporters groups and police and stadium personnel that led to numerous arrests and stadium bannings. The Revs have struggled mightily with injuries this season and in early June lost Marko Perovic to season ending knee surgery. New England are currently third-worst in MLS, ahead of Vancouver by a point (with the Whitecaps holding a game in hand) and Toronto FC on goal difference and are one of five teams in the league without a win on the road.
For all of their problems, New England are not without talent. The Revs central midfield pairing of Shalrie Joesph and Benny Feilhaber (who is returning from the ankle sprain that kept him out of the Gold Cup) is well above average and though their defense is in no way world beating it's among the better back lines in the Eastern Conference and has kept them in most games this season; in 15 games New England have allowed 2 or more goals just five times and only two of their seven losses have come by more than one goal. Make no mistake; this is a poor Revolution side but they're likely not as bad as their current place in the standings in they've most assuredly been the victim of some pretty poor luck. New England's biggest problem is fairly simple; they don't score very often.
And really, that's an understatement. New England's 12 goals put them dead last in MLS with the next most impotent attacks-Toronto FC and Columbus, with Toronto having played two more games than New England to be fair-both sitting at 16. The Revs have gotten very little from their forwards on the year with Rajko Lakic one of two players with multiple goals on the year (Joseph being the other.) Considering that Seattle has been one of the better defensive teams in the league to this point and both sides having their struggles in the attack to this point, it seems reasonable to expect a somewhat low-scoring and tense affair, no?
Well, maybe. But there are reasons to think that it isn't all that simple. For one, Feilhber is a genuinely dangerous player that quite simply hasn't had a great deal of time to make an impact on the season and though he's likely not 90 minutes hit he'll bring danger to the Revs attack that has been sorely missing. There's also the fact that the Sounders will be without Osvaldo Alonso, arguably the single most important player to the Sounders tactical approach. Though Servando Carrasco has played well for the most part this season, Seattle without the Honey Badger is something of an unknown quantity; the matchup between Joseph and Carrasco (assuming he gets the nod) will be key to Seattle's success. It's also possible that Sigi Schmid opts for a more attack oriented midfield pairing of Brad Evans and Erik Friberg given New England's poor attack but that's somewhat difficult to envision given Sigi Schmid's preference for a deep-lying destroyer type to allow the wide midfielders to push forward with less risk of the back line being left exposed.
The bigger key for Seattle, as it generally is, will be the play of Fredy Montero. The Souders much-maligned young designated player has functioned in a much freer trequartista role these past two games to a fair amount of success, but the risk in such an approach is the reality that running the entire attack through one player puts the team in danger of being completely stifled by effective man-marking. Montero is a good enough player that it generally isn't an issue, but on any given day it very well may be. Who Sigi Schmid chooses to play up top is anyone's guess; Nate Jaqua is clearly second choice to Mike Fucito at the moment and Fucito's early exit on Thursday likely has him fresh enough to get the nod this afternoon. Still, Jaqua looked strong as a substitute against the Red Bulls and could find himself back in the mix given the short turnaround. Roger Levesque's brace against New York could push Schmid to give him the nod against a weaker opponent and the possibility of Montero getting a day off can't be discounted either. It's even theoretically possible that Pat Noonan could find himself inserted back into the XI after several strong performances in reserve league play; there really is absolutely no way of knowing which way Sigi is leaning.
What is clear is that the Sounders could really do with another three points. With the transfer window opening soon and Seattle almost certain to emerge with a not-insignificant upgrade at forward, a Sounders win would bring them to within four points of LA Galaxy in the same number of games played, well within shouting distance of the current best in MLS. While there are reasons to believe that a win against the Revs at home isn't the slam dunk it might appear on first glance, none of them are compelling enough to expect a Supporters Shield contender to lose to one of the weakest sides in MLS at home. So, are the Sounders Supporters Shield contender? Nothing that happens tomorrow will be enough for anyone to answer that question definitively. But we very well may get a whole lot closer.