Sounders FC shaking off potential pitfalls
Petty inconveniences. That's how Sounders FC has to view a recent course of events. Seattle was paired against the top-seeded Los Angeles Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs even though the Sounders were the No. 6 seed among eight playoff teams.
Seattle Times staff reporter
L.A. Galaxy @ Sounders FC, 5 p.m., ESPN2
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TUKWILA — Petty inconveniences. That's how Sounders FC has to view a recent course of events.
First, Seattle was paired against the top-seeded Los Angeles Galaxy in the first round of the Major League Soccer playoffs even though the Sounders were the No. 6 seed among eight playoff teams.
Then, Sounders FC's home playoff game Sunday was scheduled for 5 p.m. on Halloween night — a problematic time slot that will certainly keep bodies out of Qwest Field seats due to trick-or-treating responsibilities.
"It wasn't optimal, that's for sure," said general manager Adrian Hanauer.
But overcoming hardships, great and small, has been a seasonlong task for Seattle. Injuries have been a particularly pressing concern as three potential starters — defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, forward Nate Jaqua and midfielder Brad Evans — each missed significant time.
That constant turnover played a vital role in Seattle's early plummet to the bottom of the standings, with a 4-8-3 record at the season's midway point. Fast forward nearly four months and Sounders FC has become the first team since 1998-99 to make the playoffs in its first two seasons.
"I don't think there are a lot of teams in the league that could've withstood losing that amount of key players down the middle of the field and done as well as we did," coach Sigi Schmid said.
Success in the second half of the season has been largely due to Schmid striking gold with an unbeaten lineup after months of tweaking and tinkering. The grouping is a perfect 7-0 and will likely be the look Seattle features Sunday.
The offense is led by versatile and complementary forwards Fredy Montero and Blaise Nkufo. Dynamic playmakers Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi fly down the wings. Defensive-minded facilitators Osvaldo Alonso and Nathan Sturgis run the midfield. And a reliable back four of Jeff Parke, Patrick Ianni, James Riley and Leo Gonzalez defends in front of veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Playing two months together has allowed the starters to grow into a seemingly invincible unit.
"It's been great to be able to work all of us together and get that rhythm going," said Alonso through a translator.
That rhythm will have to continue for two more weeks if Sounders FC hopes to advance. Both Seattle and Los Angeles will each host first-round games, and the team with the most goals after the 180 minutes moves on. If tied, the teams will play 30 minutes of extra time after the second leg. If there's still no winner, they'll go to a penalty-kick shootout.
"You want to do well at home, that's the big thing," said Riley of playoff strategy. "And we have to remember the two-game series is (like) one full game — so it's just halftime after Sunday."
Schmid is often remembered as former coach of the Columbus Crew, but he also coached Los Angeles from 1999 to 2004 until he was abruptly fired despite being in first place. Schmid said his relationship with the Galaxy executives has improved over time, but the move still came as a shock.
"I think like all of us, if somebody came to you the next day in the office and said, 'Your work's not good enough, you're out of here,' it would hurt you a little bit and hurt your ego," he said. "Certainly it took me a little while to get over that, but that's all in the past."
• MLS commissioner Don Garber told reporters in Colorado on Thursday that the league is looking to make the future playoff structure more logical. He also confirmed that there will be a reserve league next season.
• Backup goalkeeper Terry Boss trained for the second straight day Friday with no ill effects of a foot injury.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or email@example.com
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