Maybe Major League Soccer’s schedule makers knew something before a ball was kicked this season. In its first weekend back from the World Cup break, the league is able to offer a showdown between its conference leaders (Coverage begins on CSN at 6:30 p.m.).
The Seattle Sounders’ position in first place in the Western Conference is an improvement on last season’s fourth place finish and is not considered a surprise. D.C. United has gone from being a curiosity to the talk of MLS. The addition of seven veterans with MLS experience has helped the Black and Red quickly shift course after a three-win season.
While the game offers the best in each conference, the teams will not be at their best or at least not at full strength. Seattle will be missing its leading scorers Clint Dempsey (with the USMNT in Brazil) and Obafemi Martins (red card). United is also without its leading scorer Fabian Espindola because of a knee injury suffered in the win over Montreal.
1. Life without Espindola. To state the obvious, Fabian Espindola has been a big part of United turnaround and now without him for six to eight weeks it will be a challenge. Espindola will miss his first match on Saturday and in 15 appearances has delivered seven goals and eight assists. The injury to Espindola opens up an opportunity for Luis Silva to get playing time and produce. Silva started the first three games of the season, but then was forced to sideline with a hamstring injury. United’s success in Silva’s place made it hard for him to get back in the rotation. Just before the World Cup break Silva had his best game in a United uniform when he scored three goals in a win over Montreal. This is also an important time for Eddie Johnson and United needs him to assert himself to help limit the impact of Espindola’s absence. With only one goal in 12 appearances Johnson’s season has yet to really get going. Before coming to United, Johnson scored 23 goals over two seasons with the Sounders and Saturday would be a good time to add to his account in Washington.
2. The Sounders are still making noise. Seattle is riding a four-game unbeaten streak and oddly enough last lost when they were at full strength. Back in May, the Sounders suffered a 5-0 road loss to New England with Dempsey and Martins forming the forward partnership up top. It was also DeAndre Yedlin’s last game at right back before he left with Demsey to join the USMNT. The Sounders are deep. Without Yedlin, veteran Bard Evans has taken his place on the backline. With Dempsey gone Martins has continued his impressive season with three goals in four matches and has eight goals and six assists on the season. Martins was issued a red card in Seattle’s 3-2 win over Chicago for a confrontation with the Fire’s Hector Joya. Missing Martins sounds like a break for United, but Seattle is loaded with veteran attacking players. The Sounders can turn to Chad Barrett and Kenny Cooper at forward and Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa are dangerous on the flanks.