Sounders looking like a complete package ahead of 2018 MLS Playoffs

The Seattle Sounders had a dominant performance at home against Houston Dynamo, winning by a final score of 4-1. It was one of their most complete performances of the year and put Seattle on the cusp of their 10th-straight playoff appearance while also eliminating Houston at the same time. Of all of the Sounders’ goals, it was the fourth that stood out the most. A Seattle throw-in started a 13-pass sequence that ended in a simple finish for Victor Rodriguez’s second goal of the match.

The goal sequence begins with a throw in on the right side of the pitch for Seattle after Handwalla Bwana subs on for Kelvin Leerdam. As the ball goes back for Kim Kee-Hee a pocket of space opens up for Bwana and Nico Lodeiro to operate in.

As the ball goes to Cristian Roldan, Bwana and Lodeiro check to the ball, pulling defenders with them before making a break upfield. Roldan elects not to play the ball up the sideline and instead begins to switch the field by passing the ball to Ozzie Alonso who uses his first touch to leave the ball for Jordy Delem.

With the off-ball movement of Bwana and Lodeiro drawing defenders to the right side, the left side of the field is now wide open for Seattle. Seeing this, Delem passes the ball to Nouhou on the wing and while his pass isn’t far enough in front of Nouhou, it’s accurate enough for Nouhou to move up the field into the empty space.At the same time Lodeiro is moving to the opposite side of the field to support Nouhou and Rodriguez.

At this point Lodeiro’s movement has drawn a centre-back towards him making the Houston back four defend one-on-one with Seattle. The passing triangle created by Nouhou, Rodriguez and Lodeiro is crucial to the Sounders breaking open the Dynamo defense and the positioning of Alonso gives his teammates an extra outlet while simultaneously drawing Boniek Garcia towards him and away from Lodeiro.

 

While this is developing, Will Bruin is threatening a run off the back of Leonardo, forcing the Dynamo defender to stick with the Sounders forward and leaving DaMarcus Beasley alone to mark Bwana who has continued his run up the right sideline.

From this position, Nouhou leaves the ball for Rodriguez who then runs a give-and-go with Lodeiro to beat one defender and then force Garcia to choose between stepping towards Rodriguez to stop the ball or to stay with Alonso. Garcia decides to step to the ball allowing Rodriguez a free passing lane to Alonso. Meanwhile, Bruin is being dragged down by Leonardo while drawing the other centre-back’s attention as well. This allows Rodriguez to continue his run into open space after the pass.

 

Once the ball gets to Alonso, both of the Dynamo centre-backs are too close together, forcing them to scramble to Rodriguez and leaving Beasley with no choice but to leave Bwana to try and stop the pass onto the oncoming Rodriguez. Bwana at this point has probably pinched too far into the centre of the field but does well to get wide again as the pass from Alonso comes to Rodriguez.

 

As Rodriguez receives the ball he recognizes that with Beasley sliding over to defend him, Bwana is now open and uses his first touch to pass the ball off.  

 

Bwana does well to let the ball come across his body, pulling both Beasley and Leonardo towards him while Rodriguez is patient enough to let the defenders pass by him before making his run to goal. Bwana could take the shot for himself but instead cuts the ball back inside.

Bwana makes the final pass perfectly between Beasley and Leonardo as Rodriguez slips behind the pair off Beasley’s back shoulder. At this point Rodriguez is one-on-one with goalkeeper Joe Willis and his first touch puts the ball into the side netting for Seattle’s fourth goal of the match and Rodriguez’s brace.

If Seattle is able to continue playing to the same level they did against Houston they will be in a fantastic position to make a deep playoff run and possibly return to MLS Cup for the third straight year.

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In Pictures: Sounders down Dynamo 4-1 with impressive team performance

Any fears of Seattle Sounders FC regressing to their early season scoring woes with Raul Ruidiaz off with the Peruvian National Team were quickly erased by his replacement Will Bruin in the 18th minute as Seattle opened the scoring against visitors Houston Dynamo en route to a 4-1 victory.

With the Dynamo needing to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Houston played aggressively and allowed the game to be an open and end-to-end affair. Unfortunately for the Dynamo, it was the Sounders who took advantage of the extra space and dominated much of the match despite losing the overall possession battle.

What stood out the most in the match was the incisive, accurate passing of Seattle especially in Houston’s end of the field as they were able to pass circles around the defense at times and set up some of the most stunning goals of Seattle’s season.

“When the players are engaged and the coaching is at a high level you get moments like this where the team really kinda comes together and they play well,” said coach Brian Schmetzer after the match. “I think the last two games I think we’ve played well, we’ve had some good moments and we’ll try and continue those.”

While Bruin’s opener was a beautiful finish with his weaker left foot, the second goal on a counter-attack was even more impressive as Nico Lodeiro made a near end-to-end run with the ball, drawing five defenders before finding Cristian Roldan wide open inside the box for the finish.

The second half was punctuated by a Victor Rodriguez brace as Seattle continued press the defense and create chances with their passing. Bruin made a very clever dummy on Kelvin Leerdam’s low cross into the box allowing Rodriguez to get a shot away that took a fortunate deflection for his first goal.

The second was the result of Sounders taking advantage of the Houston defense over committing men to the ball, allowing Seattle to make quick passes between defenders into open space. Handwalla Bwana, moments after coming into the match, would ultimately get the assist on the goal as he split two defenders with his short pass to Rodriguez who was then one-on-one with the keeper from about eight yards out.

With the convincing lead, Schmetzer elected to use his substitutions to bring Henry Wingo and Alex Roldan into the match in an attempt to get the young players some extra minutes knowing that Seattle will need to rotate the lineup some with a short turnaround between matches in Orlando and then Houston.

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The changes seemed to unsettle the Seattle defense and allowed Houston to pull back one goal in the 87th minute but by then the match was well out of reach and while the team was disappointed to give up the clean sheet, it was still an impressive performance that puts Seattle on the cusp of their 10th consecutive postseason appearance, which would tie the MLS record.

Perhaps just as important for Seattle is that the win also eliminates Houston from playoff contention and could provide the Sounders with a confidence boost knowing that all of the three teams they will face the rest of the regular season are already out of the playoffs.

Still don’t expect Seattle to overlook those opponents as Bruin said after the match, “midweek game, cross-country in Orlando, a team that you know guys are going to be playing for jobs so that’s always a tough environment to go play in… so we’re going to need to up our game to be able to get a good result.”

Seattle Sounders staying calm ahead of crunch clash with Houston Dynamo

When attending Seattle Sounders FC training sessions during the week at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington the majority of the 12 outdoor fields are vacant and there is an overarching sense of calm mixed in with Brian Schmetzer’s practices. Save for the occasional passing train, there is little to hear other than players and coaches preparing for the upcoming match.

On Saturdays the complex comes to life as youth teams take over fields overlooked by the Sounders’ offices; the future of Seattle soccer on display in the shadow of it’s present.

The atmosphere for players during Saturday training is wildly different from the mostly unwatched weekday training sessions as fans get a chance to watch practice as well as get photos and autographs.

Jordan Morris signing autographs for Seattle Sounders fans. (Photo: John Marshall)

 

While it’s still business as usual for the team as they prepare for a Monday night game against Houston Dynamo, the increased fan presence is something defender Kelvin Leerdam welcomes.

“First of all I’m happy that the people are here,” said Leerdam after practice. “They are always supporting us in good and bad times. Now it’s going good so everybody’s happy but they’re also coming when we are on a bad run. So it always gives us a boost. If you see people happy you just want to play more and play harder and hopefully we can keep the stretch going.”

Houston provides a tough test for Sounders with a speedy attacking core coming off a US Open Cup victory over Philadelphia Union and a comeback win over San Jose Earthquakes as well. Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis lead the team in scoring with 15 and 11 goals respectively and Tomas Martinez serves as a dangerous playmaker in the attacking midfield role.

“They’re very explosive on the counter,” said Stefan Frei. “They have some pace; they’re not afraid to shoot from distance. I think their confidence is quite high up top… They have some guys up there that are very eager to score and don’t really care how its going to happen and that’s very dangerous.”

While Houston is still mathematically in the Western Conference playoff race it seems Dynamo need a miracle as they’ll have to take maximum points from their last four matches to have any hope of catching Real Salt Lake in the sixth and final playoff position. With two of Seattle’s next three matches against Houston, Frei dismissed the idea of treating the first match any different from the norm.

“No it doesn’t matter… We have to take it to [Houston] and we have to get three points at home,” said Frei. “It doesn’t really matter who we’re facing at this point. If we want to be ready for the playoffs, get into the playoffs, and then make a serious push then what you do at home is vital.

“All focus is on this home game and making sure that we take care of business.”

Seattle will play host to Houston this Monday night at 19:30 PT (03:30 GMT) as they look to secure their 10th-straight postseason appearance which would tie the Los Angeles Galaxy for longest streak of consecutive appearances in league history.

Dempsey says farewell as Sounders get big win over Sporting KC

Clint Dempsey was barely off the field after his retirement ceremony when Sporting Kansas City took the lead at CenturyLink Field but Seattle Sounders FC would come back to score three unanswered to make it eightstraight wins, the most in a single season in the post-shootout era.

Sporting capitalised on Seattle’s inability to clear their box as Diego Rubio scored in just the second minute of the match. Brad Smith tried to clear the ball but was just beat to it by Gerso Fernandes and the bouncing ball sat up perfectly for Rubio who smashed it into the bottom left corner.

Smith would make up for missing the clearance just ten minutes later as Sounders equalized in impressive fashion thanks to a perfect cross from Smith that found Raul Ruidiaz for the easiest of tap-ins from just a few feet out.

 

It was a sloppy first ten minutes for Sounders and while the equalizer did help to tighten up their passing, Kansas City continued to get dangerous looks at goal and forced Seattle to scramble defensively multiple times in the first half.

While Seattle has struggled mightily at times this season, they have consistently done well in defense when forced to scramble.

The first half came close to having some added intrigue as Nico Lodeiro was brought down just outside of the box in stoppage time by Ike Opara and was shouting for a straight red for denying him and obvious goal scoring opportunity after intercepting a pass. While he looked to be in on goal alone at the time, referee Baldomero Toledo decided that centre-back Matt Besler was close enough for it to not be worthy of a straight red and issued a yellow card instead.

Ruidiaz stepped up to take the free kick but hit it poorly right at the wall for the final play of the first half.

While it’s safe to say the first half was less than impressive from Seattle, the second half was a near complete change of form for Sounders as they swarmed Sporting and took the lead in the 52nd minute and would double it in the 56th.

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First was a stroke of good fortune for the Rave Green as Harry Shipp’s cross from inside the box banked off of the back of Graham Zusi and over the fingertips of Tim Melia making it three straight matches that Seattle has been the beneficiary of an own goal.

Then minutes later a cross from Smith hit the arm of Opara inside the box prompting Toledo to award the penalty kick. Lodeiro stepped up to the spot and froze Melia with his shot to put Seattle up 3-1.

Now down two goals with more than 30 minutes to play, Kansas City began to fight their way back into the match, owning the possession stats for the rest of the match as Sounders began playing more defensively.

Seattle was looking like they would defend fairly comfortably for the rest of the match until an 81st minute red card to Chad Marshall was issued after going to VAR.

Even with the man advantage though Sporting failed to break down the stalwart Seattle defense and it would ultimately be the Sounders match to win as they eclipsed Kansas City’s 2012 winning streak of seven matches. They still have one match to go though before they’ll match the nine straight won by Sporting over two seasons, 2012-2013, and will have to do so on the road against Vancouver where a win or draw will clinch the Cascadia Cup for Seattle.

In pictures: Confident Sounders embarrass Galaxy 5-0

After out classing FC Dallas at home on Sunday, Seattle Sounders FC demolished LA Galaxy 5-0 in a match that never seemed in doubt for the Rave Green.

In front of 44,213 at CenturyLink Field, Chad Marshall opened the scoring in the third minute with his second goal in as many games. Harry Shipp doubled the lead before halftime and Seattle continued their domination into the second half with an own goal from former Sounder Servando Carrasco and goals from Cristian Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz rounding out the scoring.

The result set the Sounders club record for biggest margin of victory and tied the Galaxy club record for worst loss.

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It was as confident of a performance as we’ve seen from Seattle, now unbeaten in nine and having won their last six, and the fluidity in their ball movement and and off ball runs has been at the forefront of their success.

The build-up to Seattle’s fourth goal was a perfect encapsulation of that confidence and ball movement as Nico Lodeiro and Harry Shipp pass back-and-forth around several Galaxy defenders before slipping Shipp into space behind the defense.

From there Shipp is able to pick out Roldan in a pocket of space between four defenders for the first touch shot into the far corner.

Seattle were not without flaws though and almost allowed the Galaxy back into the match late in the first half as Sebastian Lletget had space at the top of the box to take a shot but skied it high over the bar.

“Our team has started strong the first 20 to 25 minutes of games here recently and we let our foot off the gas a little bit and I think we let them back in,” said Brian Schmetzer post-match.

“We made a couple of corrections at halftime, tried to get some adjustments made and I think that team, again that team did what they were supposed to do, did what they had to do to put the game out of reach and all credit goes to them.”

Although the Galaxy were without five of their regular starters including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romain Alessandrini, and both Gio and Jonathan dos Santos, there really isn’t much excuse for the several poor turnovers, two of which lead to Seattle goals.

The own goal by Carrasco feels like a perfect microcosm of the Galaxy’s day as first Jørgen Skjelvik slips in his own box trying to shield a through ball away from Lodeiro only for the ensuing cross back towards Ruidiaz to bounce right off the feet of the recovering Carrasco and slowly trickle over the goal line.

Seattle will likely have a more difficult time on the road next week as they head South on I-5 to take on hated rivals Portland Timbers. Portland has taken both matches between the two sides so far this season, first a 1-0 win in Portland before getting their first ever regular season win in Seattle since joining MLS with a 3-2 battle in late June.

With an unbalanced Cascadia Cup schedule this year though, Seattle sits atop the Cascadia standings as each team has a win and a loss after playing two matches thanks to the first meeting between Seattle and Portland not being included in the 2018 series.

Sounders build form at the right time with playoff spot now in reach

It took two stoppage time goals in Minnesota for Seattle Sounders FC to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win against Minnesota United, extending the Sounders’ unbeaten streak to seven on top of four straight wins. Seattle now sits on 29 points through 22 games and are eighth in the West, just four points behind Real Salt Lake.

The turn of form has resulted in 17 points for Sounders over their seven-game unbeaten run, more than doubling their point total of 12 through 15 games to start the season while climbing out of the cellar in the West.

Having never missed the playoffs since joining MLS in 2009, Sounders players have acknowledged the pressure on them to clinch their 10th-straight playoff berth and tie the LA Galaxy for the league record.

Looking at the past three seasons since MLS expanded the playoffs to six teams, the sixth seed in either conference has finished the season with an average around 46 points. With that in mind, Seattle will need to take at least 17 points through their last 12 games to be in contention for the final playoff position.

Luckily for Seattle, seven of the last 12 are at home and seven are against teams currently outside of the playoff picture.

Here’s the Sounders’ schedule for the rest of the regular season:

  • August 12th, Home vs. FC Dallas
  • August 18th, Home vs. LA Galaxy
  • August 26th, Away vs. Portland
  • September 1st, Home vs. Kansas City
  • September 15th, Away vs. Vancouver
  • September 19th, Home vs. Philadelphia
  • September 23rd, Away vs. LA Galaxy
  • September 29th, Home vs. Colorado
  • October 8th, Home vs. Houston
  • October 17th, Away vs. Orlando
  • October 21st, Away vs. Houston
  • October 28th, Home vs. San Jose

Of those 12 matches, at least four should be wins for Sounders: San Jose, Home vs. Houston, Philadelphia, and Colorado. Away matches against Vancouver and Orlando are great chances for Sounders to take three points and although they have struggled to get results in Houston, recent form from the Dynamo makes that matchup seem favourable for Seattle.

If Seattle manages to win all seven of those games, they’d sit on 50 points which based off of recent history should be enough to make at least sixth in the West. That could be a tough ask though with short turnaround from Orlando to Houston making the two game road trip a bit more difficult to take maximum points.

The five remaining games, Dallas, LA home and away, Portland, and Kansas City, will be the biggest decider for Seattle. Dallas having lost at home against a struggling San Jose Earthquakes side looks to be a great chance for Sounders to get three points at home to help their playoff chances, especially with Seattle on their current unbeaten streak.

After taking over the team in 2016, Brian Schmetzer lead Sounders to a 8-2-3 record to end the season en route to winning MLS Cup. This time around Sounders need to end the year at 7-2-3 to safely make the playoffs which seems like an achievable goal based off their opponents but will still be a difficult task to achieve.

If Sounders can maintain their form, expect to see them playing in their tenth straight playoffs but should they slip, it would be a very disappointing season for a club with such consistently high aspirations.

In pictures: Timbers make it 15 unbeaten with 3-0 win over Union

The Portland Timbers tied a club record by stretching their unbeaten run to 15 on Saturday night. Portland scored two penalties on the way to a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union at Providence Park.

The teams went into half-time with the score locked at 0-0 but Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese told his players to go after the Union after the break. And they did.

Penalties scored by Diego Valeri and Dairon Asprilla put Portland 2-0 up before David Guzman headed in the final goal in the 87th minute. Asprilla and Guzman scored their first goals of the season on the night.

The result moved Portland up into second place in the Western Conference and stretched their home unbeaten run to 10. For Philadelphia, they sit seventh in the East, two point behind New England and Montreal, who currently occupy the final two playoff spots with 12 games to go.

Portland’s impressive run stretches all the way back to mid-April, when they beat Minnesota 3-2 in their 2018 home opener. The Timbers failed to win any of their five opening games to the season – all of which were played on the road – so the fact they’re now sitting second is remarkable.

Check out exclusive photos from Saturday’s game at Providence Park below, courtesy of MLSGB photographer, Denise McCooey:

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Sounders win third straight with 3-1 victory over NYCFC to continue playoff push

Seattle Sounders FC made it sixstraight unbeaten on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, knocking off New York City FC by a score of 3-1. Goals from Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson, and Harry Shipp helped to cap off a stretch of three games in nine days with maximum points from all three matches.

In both of his starts for Seattle, Raul Ruidiaz has shown his ability to draw defenders and create space for his teammates and has made the club much more dangerous in the attacking third. His first goal for the club in the midweek fixture in San Jose gave Seattle their first win at Avaya Stadium and only their second win in San Jose since joining MLS in 2009. On Sunday his presence and work rate in front of goal created the space that allowed his teammates to find scoring opportunities.

Making the most of those opportunities was Harry Shipp who finished the day with a goal and an assist. Shipp looked as confident on Sunday as he has all season, constantly winning the ball in the midfield with his work rate and making precise, dangerous passes to his teammates to stretch the NYC defence.

“The most proud I am is since I started playing again, we’ve been winning games and for me that’s what I take pride in,” said Shipp. “It’s not the goals, it’s not the assists, it’s about winning games.”

For the first time since the signing of Ruidiaz, coach Brian Schmetzer gave us a glimpse of what the team looks like with both Ruidiaz and Will Bruin on the field in a 4-4-2 and was coy when asked afterwards how much that formation factors into his plans for the rest of the season. If anything having both Bruin and Ruidiaz on the field at the same time gives Seattle a striker pairing that is able to be strong in holding the ball high up the field while also having the speed to get behind their opponents back line.

Even in this stretch of sixstraight unbeaten the Sounders feel like they still have improvements to make. Cristian Roldan after the match said, “The incredible thing about this [run] is we’re not playing well. We’re grinding out games, we’re winning these games because we’re playing good defense and we’re scoring one or two goals. And that’s the scary part.” Roldan specifically pointed to the first 30 minutes of the match where he felt the team needed to improve saying the team needs to be better in possession, create more chances and be less predictable in attack.

The Sounders next test will be Saturday, August 4th against Minnesota United who have been extremely dangerous since adding Darwin Quintero from Liga MX side Club America. Since joining the club Quintero has scored nine goals in 17 matches and turned Minnesota into playoff contenders. It’s going to be a challenging road test for the Sounders, especially for the centrebacks as they try and contain Quintero for 90 minutes.

Confidence is certainly growing for Sounders though as they fight to make the playoffs yet again. Schmetzer said, “We’ve discussed this a lot that we put ourselves in a really big hole and so we need to collect points. I don’t care where we collect them, how we collect them, we need to collect points because this team deserves to be in the playoffs… It’s just a question of can we dig ourselves out, can we get enough points to get in.”

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In pictures: Atlanta United forced to settle for a point in 1-1 draw with Seattle Sounders

Atlanta United couldn’t reward their record crowd of 72,243 with a win, as Seattle Sounders battled to earn a 1-1 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday night.

Atlanta will rue missed opportunities in what was a fiery contest between the two sides. The Sounders will be happy with the road point as they look to build some momentum ahead of their traditional late-season surge towards the playoffs.

It was the visitors who took the lead, right on the stroke of half-time. Harry Shipp’s shot was blocked by Franco Escobar but after going to Video Review, referee Baldomero Toledo pointed to the penalty spot.

Nicolas Lodeiro converted and Seattle went into half-time 1-0 up. But it wouldn’t stay that way for very long. Atlanta United came out fighting in the second-half and got the equaliser in the 48th minute.

Josef Martinez was able to beat Kim Kee-Hee to Julian Gressel’s floated cross and steered his header over Stefan Frei. But that was the last time Atlanta were able to get the better of the Sounders goalkeeper.

Frei came up big to keep the score at 1-1 and earned his side a valuable point. Seattle had to play the final half an hour with ten men after Jordan McCrary was sent off, but Atlanta couldn’t capitalise.

Check out exclusive photos from Sunday’s game below, courtesy of MLSGB photographer, Denise McCooey:

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Lodeiro breaks scoring drought, key to 2-1 Sounders win over D.C. United

After 363 minutes without a goal in MLS play, Seattle Sounders FC finally found the breakthrough against D.C. United on Saturday night as Nicolas Lodeiro scored in his first game back from injury and international duty to bring his side level in the 57th minute.

Five minutes later Magnus Wolff Eikrem would give Seattle a second as the CenturyLink Field crowd erupted with a cathartic roar that echoed through the building as Sounders took their first lead in exactly a month.

The two goals would be enough for Seattle to secure three points on the night and move them up to 10th in the West but more importantly showcased the Sounders ability to play positive, attacking football.

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Contrary to the matches against Real Salt Lake, Seattle was able to out-possess their opponents and connect passes in the final third. Compared to the 60% and 58% against RSL, Sounders completed 77% of their passes in the attacking third on Saturday.

Having Lodeiro back is definitely a big boost to the team as Sounders are at their best when play runs through the Uruguayan midfielder. Lodeiro led all players in touches and total passes with 105 and 84 respectively while completing a staggering 93% of those passes. It’s also a benefit when that same player can hit a half-volley from the top of the box perfectly into the bottom corner of the goal to end the clubs longest goalless drought (also 363 minutes from July 3rd to August 9th in 2015).

There’s also some concerns to be had with Seattle’s continued injury woes as Kelvin Leerdam had to be subbed out making it eight straight matches (including the 2-1 loss in the U.S. Open Cup in Sacramento) where coach Brian Schmetzer has been forced to use a sub due to an injury.

The silver lining to the Leerdam substitution was that Cristian Roldan played extremely well filling in at right back, eventually assisting on the game winner from Eikrem, the man who replaced Leerdam on the field. Brian Schmetzer complimented Roldan on his work rate and his ability to push up the field but then quickly get back to defend when possession was lost.

Although it was a much better performance from Seattle than of late, it was against a D.C. team that currently sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with just two wins and 9 points.

The real test comes on Wednesday when Sounders make a cross-continent trip to face New York Red Bulls who are 4-1-1 at home so far and have a Eastern Conference best +13 goal differential. Seattle will need another strong performance on short rest from the likes of Lodeiro, Roldan, Clint Dempsey, and Osvaldo Alonso if they plan to leave Red Bull Arena with a result.