TUKWILA, Wash. – The last time the Seattle Sounders were at Rio Tinto Stadium, there was a very different feel around the team.
They had just lost to Real Salt Lake 2-1, having been practically played off the field in the first half and watched their 2013 record fall to 0-3-1, prompting an hour-long, players-only meeting.
Something clearly changed after that. The Sounders have since gone 6-1-2, surging into playoff contention and head into Saturday’s game against RSL (9:30 pm ET, MLS Free Stream of the Week) as one of the hottest teams in the league, having won four of their last five.
“It was the bottom of us, but it was also a point that it couldn’t get much worse,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning told MLSsoccer.com. “We knew we had to come together as a group and figure something out. Sometimes it’s just small things you have to change and then everything is good.”
The area that has seen the most improvement is in the attack. After scoring just three goals in their first four games, the Sounders have scored 16 times in their past nine and 13 in their past five.
“As a team I think we’re in a better place,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said, noting that Obafemi Martins hadn’t been fully integrated into the team and that Eddie Johnson was nursing a hamstring injury. “There were a lot of things affecting us when we went into that game. It’s something we feel better about, but I’m sure they feel better about at this stage too.”
Schmid also pointed out that Lamar Neagle didn’t even play in the last game against RSL. Neagle has started seven times during the Sounders’ current nine-game run, logging four goals and three assists along the way. The Sounders have gone 5-0-2 in his starts.
Neagle’s starts have come exclusively at forward. But with Johnson’s return from national team duty, Schmid may be forced to slide Neagle back to the midfield where he had mostly played before this season.
“Having all three of us on the field at the same time can only be a good thing,” Neagle said. “I’ve played well when Eddie is up there, when Oba is up there. Wherever I’m placed that’s where I plan to play.”