Photo by ISIphotos.com
By JOSE M. ROMERO
Come Halloween Night in and around the Emerald City, there figures to be tens of thousands of adults and kids dressed as ghosts, superheroes and Seattle Sounders.
A lot those folks wearing rave green will be in their seats at Qwest Field. Seattle's first home playoff match is Oct. 31 at 5 p.m., its leg of the two-leg MLS Western Conference semifinals. Only the opponent remains to be determined.
This is where the speculation starts and perhaps a little strategy comes into play. Do the Sounders play hard and try to win out in their last two MLS regular-season matches — the first of those is Friday night at 8 p.m. Pacific against Chivas USA on ESPN2 — and hope to maintain their streak of four MLS wins in a row? It's six straight if one counts a CONCACAF Champions League win over CD Marathon, the U.S. Open Cup final victory over Columbus and Tuesday night's friendly, a 3-1 win over Chivas de Guadalajara.
Do the Sounders rest a few top players? Do they even consider dropping out of their current No. 4 spot in the West, which would put them against the top-seeded L.A. Galaxy, and shoot for the No. 3 or 4 seed in the East, where they'd face New York or Columbus in the opening round?
That could happen anyway. Seattle's last two regular-season opponents are two teams going nowhere, Chivas USA and Houston, but the San Jose Earthquakes, currently the the No. 3 seed in the East with 43 points to the Sounders' 45, have three games left in the regular season. Colorado, at 42 points the current No. 4 seed in the East, has two games to play.
Coach Sigi Schmid doesn't seem to be the type to ease up on the momentum for any reason, the thinking being that he'd rather have his team going into the playoffs on a roll. The Seattle Times reported Thursday night that a first-team lineup is expected to start against Chivas USA on Fan Appreciation Night, the regular-season home finale Friday.
Schmid said he has learned not to wish for any particular opponent, but the Sounders did defeat the Crew twice in 2010, plus a draw, and split two matches with the Red Bulls. They lost twice to the Galaxy in MLS play and defeated L.A. in the U.S. Open Cup.
Friday night completes an interesting week for the Sounders. Last Saturday at Kansas City, the club secured its second straight playoff berth after defeating the Wizards 2-1. Midfielder Sanna Nyassi, who is having an October to remember, scored the opening goal.
On Tuesday, the club played a match at home for the first time without a dominant advantage in the stands, as Las Chivas had thousands of supporters among the 41,047 in attendance.
"Hopefully we convinced some of the Chivas fans that the Seattle Sounders are worth supporting as well," Schmid said.
Members of the team's largest supporters group, the Emerald City Supporters, boycotted the match because, according to them, the team is/was involved in three competitions (MLS, CONCACAF and U.S. Open Cup) already and the timing of a "meaningless" friendly against Chivas was unnecessary, given that the team is headed for the MLS playoffs and needs its first-team players in top form.
The gesture was one of protest against the front office, which scheduled three international friendlies this season, while the ECS stated its opinion that there should only be one given the team's already-packed schedule. The ECS did encourage its ranks to donate unused tickets to a local Boys & Girls club.
That meant more tickets for others who might otherwise not get to experience a Sounders game, and both the Latino and non-Latino communities responded with a big crowd for a weeknight match.
"Certainly our fans have been there the whole time and I'm not going to get on their case," Schmid said. "They've supported us the whole time and I expect them to be behind us full force on Friday night when we play Chivas USA."
Seattle has yet to beat Chivas USA in MLS play in its history. The Sounders are 0-2-2 all-time against Chivas USA and have never scored against the Goats. Seattle defeated Chivas in a U.S. Open Cup match 3-1 on Sept. 1.