TUKWILA, Wash. — There have been plenty of big games during the Seattle Sounders’ first four years of MLS play, but none have ever been quite like Friday’s against Real Salt Lake (10 pm ET, NBCSN).
A win would give the Sounders sole possession of the Supporters’ Shield lead, something they’ve never had a chance to do this late in a season.
"If you don't look forward to these kind of games, why are we doing all of this?” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said immediately following Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire. “These are the games that you want.
“Somebody told me once when I left college coaching, 'Sigi, if you haven't accepted the challenges that life brings with it, then life isn't worth living.' This game on Friday is one of those challenges and that's what makes the difference. That's what gets the blood going and it's exciting and makes things happen.
"It's such a massive game for our fans to come out and see. This is what you live for; this is why you do sports. This is why we try to strive to do well, so you get opportunities like this."
A few days later and with a a few more until the actual game, the emotions seem to have died down a little. But the Sounders are clearly approaching the top-of-the-table clash with an understanding for its importance.
“Salt Lake is a team you have to beat if you want to win a MLS Cup,” Sounders midfielder Marc Burch told MLSsoccer.com. “This is first place now, but we’re going to see them again soon. This isn’t the end of the road on Friday, but it’s big game. It’s a chance to get into first place with a couple games in hand and hopefully move on from there.”
The Sounders will come in playing as well as they ever have. Their four-match winning streak is tied for the longest this season in MLS and their current run of seven wins in eight games has never been matched in team history. They’ve managed to make this run while missing key players to injury, suspension and international call-ups in each game.
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With the team now getting close to full strength, there’s a sense that this might only be the beginning.
“We are in a good place,” midfielder Mauro Rosales said. “We want to keep going. We can’t relax. Even more now we have to push the gas and try to finish the best way we can and build a tough team for the playoffs. This is what we wanted. Our goal is to be a good team in the playoffs.”