It's never too early to look at playoff race

SOUNDERS FC: After eight of 34 games, Schmid likes team's spot in standings going into duel with D.C.

May 4, 2011 

Sounders FC has reached the 1.5-points-per-game average that coach Sigi Schmid thinks will be the safe zone for playoff qualification at the end of the season.

That average will go up or down tonight, when the Sounders visit D.C. United.

Regardless of the result, Schmid says he is pleased with how his team has righted itself from an 0-2 start and where it stands going into its ninth game of the 34-game MLS season.

“We’ve always felt we’re a playoff team,” Schmid said Tuesday. “I think we’re in that position now. Winning (tonight) would give us the identical record to L.A. after nine games. People, I think, at the start – when we lost to them 1-0 – everybody was saying, ‘Well, there’s a playoff team. Hopefully the Sounders will be as good as them.’ And I think we are as good as them and anybody else in this league, and I’ve always felt that.”

Riding a six-game unbeaten streak, Seattle has climbed to 3-2-3. A win tonight would give the Sounders 15 points, joining the Galaxy atop not only the Western Conference but atop MLS.

“Is this a fair reflection of where we think we are? Yes, it is,” Schmid said. “I think as you play the amount of games and you play the different teams, you get a feel of how you compare. Even after those first games, we always felt we were a team that was comparable to any of the top teams in the league. But after two games, we had zero points, and so we really couldn’t say much.”

The Sounders have been forced to improvise after injuries to key players such as Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White. Brad Evans leads the team with three goals, including two Saturday in a win over Toronto. Mauro Rosales – who missed the Toronto game with a hamstring injury and is questionable for tonight – leads with three assists.

“Brad Evans, is he going to be our leading goal scorer at the end of the year? I probably don’t think so,” Schmid said. “… Brad is a player that sometimes divides the public, because it doesn’t always look as smooth and as skillful as maybe it looks with Montero or someone like that. But at the end of the day you measure effectiveness, and certainly he’s an effective player.”

Meanwhile, Seattle’s defense has stepped up with back-to-back shutouts and has allowed two goals over its past four games. The shutout of Toronto dropped the Sounders’ goals-against average to 0.88, with Kasey Keller in goal for every minute.

“We want to be able to go through a season and give up less than a goal a game,” Schmid said. “… Kasey has certainly come up big for us in a couple of games, for sure, and helped us salvage some points and made some great saves. So, he’s continuing to play at the top of his game.”

The Sounders begin this two-game trip against a team that seems headed in the other direction. D.C. United conceded four goals in each of its past two games – losses to New York and Houston – and has allowed the most goals in MLS (16).

After tonight, Seattle will remain on the road, heading to Columbus for a Saturday match with the crew.

“I think you’re always happy with four points when you go on the road,” Schmid said. “If you can get a win and a tie, you’re happy with that, but that’s not what we go into each game with. If we tie the first game, we want to win the second one. If we win the first one, we want to win the second one. We go into each game wanting the win, but at the end of the day, if you walk away with a tie and win in two road games, that’s good.”

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer

SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

SOUNDERS FC (3-2-3; 12 PTS.) AT D.C. UNITED (2-4-1; 7 PTS.)

4:30 p.m., RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

TV: Ch. 6/16. RADIO: 97.3-FM (99.3-FM in Spanish).

HEAD TO HEAD: Seattle leads, 2-1-1, and is 3-0 at RFK Stadium, including the 2009 U.S. Open Cup championship game. D.C. United will visit Seattle on Sept. 17.

TEAM LEADERS: For Seattle – G 3, Brad Evans; A 3, Mauro Rosales; S 22 Fredy Montero; SOG 12, Montero; GAA 0.88, Kasey Keller. For D.C. – G 5, Charlie Davies; A 1, five players; S 15 Chris Pontius; SOG 8, Pontius; GAA 2.25, Bill Hamid.

NOTES: Seattle has a six-game unbeaten string. D.C. has lost its past two MLS matches by a combined 8-1. … United has allowed a league-high 16 goals. … Sounders midfielder Mauro Rosales (hamstring) will be a game-time decision. Steve Zakuani (broken leg) and O’Brian White (blood clot) are out. United midfielder Kurt Morsink (concussion) is doubtful. … United’s Davies leads MLS with five goals. Three have come by penalty kick. The former U.S. national team star is on loan from Sochaux of France while coming back from severe injuries suffered in a 2009 car crash. … The referee is Hilario Grajeda.

QUOTABLE: “(RFK) has been a good stadium for us. We want to maintain that, but that’s something that (D.C. coach) Ben Olsen is going to be talking to their team about, because he’s as aware of it as everybody else is. But winning on the road builds your confidence; winning in a place gives you confidence to go back and win again.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.

NEXT: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, at Columbus Crew, Ch. 6/16.

Don Ruiz, staff writer

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