Seattle Sounders FC are ready to get on with it. With the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal Series with the Houston Dynamo, a scoreless tie, played last Thursday night, the team enjoyed a weekend off followed by an entire week of training.
Although the practices have been competitive, the players have been looking forward to resuming festivities, or hostilities as might be more accurate, in the winner-take-all second leg.
"It's very clear to see the importance of this game. It's a chance to get into the semifinals; one team goes home," said Seattle striker Fredy Montero. "Playing against a team like Houston, in the playoffs, sometimes this game is going to be more of a war than a soccer match."
After a short training session, Sounders FC left on Friday afternoon for Texas. Injured defender Tyrone Marshall returned to practice on Thursday and Friday and was part of the traveling squad. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said that if there are no more setbacks, Marshall should be in Seattle's 18-man roster on Sunday, although it's not clear if he would start over Patrick Ianni. Montero's illness, which bothered him before last week's game, has not limited him and he is also at full strength.
The long break helped Houston, as Ricardo Clark and Luis Angel Landin are both nearing full fitness. Clark gutted through 90 minutes in the first leg on an injured knee, while Landin started on the bench. Having a U.S. international and the club's first designated player would be a big boost to the Dynamo, while speedy midfielder Corey Ashe might also be available to coach Dominic Kinnear.
Save a long-term injury to Richard Mulrooney, Houston also has all of its players to choose from Sunday, ensuring there will be no surprises when the two clubs meet for the fifth time this season. While Seattle holds a 2-0-2 record in the first four matches in all competitions, they know that after a scoreless draw last week that the next game will be the only one that matters.
"We would have preferred to won but we didn't," said goalkeeper Kasey Keller. "Now we feel confident that we don't have a hole to climb out of. We can just go there and play and get the victory."
Six players received yellow cards in the first match; should any of them receive another yellow they would be ineligible for the Conference Championship. Should the score be tied after 90 minutes, a 30-minute overtime and (if still tied) a penalty shootout will ensue.
With that in mind, Seattle has been taking penalties in training, although Schmid doesn't ascribe too much to that approach. He believes that taking a good penalty is mental- - just because someone takes a great penalty in training doesn't guarantee he'll do the same in the match.
"If it comes to that point, we are going to be able to pick five guys who are going to step up and put five away," Schmid said.
The atmosphere should be lively and loud, as ticket sales have been brisk. The lower bowl at Robertson Stadium sold out earlier in the week and a senior Dynamo official confirmed that 200 tickets were sold to Seattle fans who will be making the trip. Additionally, Seattle supporters groups are organizing viewing parties all over the state of Washington. Fans who are outside the Seattle market can watch the match on television through Fox Sports Northwest, according to the club's website.
Schmid believes the fans are going to be treated to an exciting game.
"They're not going to relinquish this thing easily," Schmid said. "I think it's going to be a great game.
"It's going to be a game that is end to end. It's a game that is going to have a lot of drama attached to it. But I like our chances."
Andrew Winner is a contributor to MLSnet.com.