TUKWILA, Wash. — After losing to a struggling D.C. United at RFK Stadium on May 4, the Seattle Sounders pledged to themselves that they would not take a team for granted on the road again.
Since that 2-1 loss in Washington, the Sounders are unbeaten on the road. They’ll hope to keep that momentum going Sunday at Portland’s JELD-WEN Field (4 pm ET, ESPN), which is expecting a noisy crowd of almost 19,000 fans.
“It’s something we’re familiar with,” said left back Tyson Wahl of the environment at JELD-WEN. “Obviously we play in front of a loud crowd ourselves and play in an enthusiastic environment. We’re looking forward to it.”
Since 2009, when he took over at the helm, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid has stressed a keep-it-simple approach to playing on the road. He said Thursday that he always instructs his team to play the same style home or away, resisting the temptation to change formations or bunker in on the road.
While he conceded that the team’s record in his first year wasn’t great, they have certainly made progress. In their past five away matches, the Sounders’ 2-0-3 record includes draws at Columbus and the LA Galaxy and a win at Real Salt Lake. On the season, Seattle boast a laudable 3-2-5 record away from home — equal to Vancouver’s points total of 14.
In Portland, Seattle face a team that’s seen a formidable home advantage slip away in recent weeks. After starting the season with five consecutive wins at home, the Timbers have only managed to grab one point from the past four matches (0-3-1) at JELD-WEN.
Asked for an explanation on Portland’s struggles, Schmid drew a parallel to Seattle’s first season.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm [and] a lot of adrenaline going through everyone's veins so [they got] off to a really ambitious start,” Schmid said. “Then reality sets in and the day-to-day grind sets in and things change a little bit. That happened to us as well.”
John Spencer’s Portland side hasn’t won since May 21, but defender Jeff Parke says that won’t matter come Sunday.
“They’re going to say it’s the most important game of the season,” Parke said. “As of right now, it’s the most important game of the season for us because of the standings. We need the three points.”
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS