Even with the possibility of Brian Carroll's 350th career league appearance, the headlines around Saturday's match seem hinged on the ever topsy-turvy MLS, which will showcase two of the bigger surprises from the first six weeks of the 2016 season at CenturyLink Field.
The Union (3-2-0, 9 points) sit behind Montreal Impact at the top of the Eastern Conference Table, albeit only because of goal differential. Seattle Sounders FC (1-3-1, 4 points) sit at the bottom of the Western Conference Table and are already startling 10 points behind table-leader FC Dallas. They’re even six points behind Colorado for a mid-table standing is hard to fathom.
But the MLS journey is most certainly a marathon, not a sprint. And Union head coach Jim Curtin has preached all week of the club's ability to rotate fresh players in as needed. Regardless, he said he knows Saturday’s date with Seattle will be a challenge – regardless of what the table may indicate.
“I’ve warned my guys they have champions on their team, they have winners on their team,” Curtin said. “So, it’s going to be a very difficult task. In some ways, it makes it even more challenging to go there because they need a win. Again, [they’re] a team I respect a great deal. Anybody can beat anybody in our league so it’s going to be a tough day. We’ll have to be playing at our best to have a shot.
“But, yeah, I wouldn’t read too much into the early standings, the power rankings, and all that stuff,” Curtin continued.
Make no mistake, the Sounders have struggled out of the gate. They’re 17th in total shots and only Columbus has scored fewer than Seattle’s four. Paraguayan national Nelson Valdez has only put two shots on target in four games. He missed last week’s draw against Houston due to injury and Seattle replaced him with rookie Jordan Morris.
Morris has also struggled early on. The 21-year-old American phenom has put just one shot on target in five games.
“Morris is a very good player with a great skillset,” Curtin said. “I think you have to be patient with these types of things, you don’t just walk into a pro league and all of the sudden just dominate. It doesn’t happen too often.”
But where Seattle goes for offense on Saturday is certainly in question. All told, Seattle isn’t getting much out of any of their forwards, with Clint Dempsey scoring the only goal from the group.
Why? Well one indication may be from losing Obafemi Martins in the offseason. Their current form is eerily similar to how Seattle played last summer when Martins was injured for a stretch of nine games from June to August. In that stretch, Seattle lost eight of nine and remarkably scored just three goals. Martins returned on Aug. 16 and they lost just one time in their final 10.
“Obviously, Martins was a big piece of what they were about,” Curtin said. “Dangerous player, as dangerous as there is in our league. So, they’ve had some change, they’ve brought in some younger players. You can’t just snap your fingers and it all the sudden just clicks.”
All things considered, though, the Union have to feel confident in their ability to go to Seattle and steal a point, or three. Regardless of how the Sounders have played in five meager games, the Union have looked as dangerous as any team this season – again regardless of the relative short time period.
Along with Montreal and Toronto, the Union have conceded the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference. Only Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy have conceded fewer.
With apologies to standout rookie defenders Keegan Rosenberry and Ken Tribbett, (as well as the vast overall improvement thanks to the healthy return of Richie Marquez) part of that has to be thanks to Andre Blake.
The goalkeeper has stolen plenty of headlines in the league this year, already being nominated for Save of the Week in three of his five performances. That even excludes an eight-save performance in Dallas.
“He’s been special, there’s no doubt about it,” Curtin said. “We’re very happy with his performance… We’ll still work to push Andre — he’s young, he’s still getting better each game — but it does make you feel confident that there’s a guy back there that can save what he’s supposed to save and makes the big saves too to win you a game, and win you points.”
What do you think is the key to success vs. Seattle? Leave your comment below.