Cascadia has been erupting with Canadian sporting-spirit over the last two weeks. Vancouver’s Canucks have been hoped up on Stanley Cup hype. While their Whitecaps brethren, and Southsiders Supporters traveled well to Seattle last week for as exciting a Major League Soccer match as has been played all season. Capped by what may become the goal of the year from Eric Hassli. A sublimely scored late equalizer.
Eric Hassli’s magic strike pegged Vancouver back on equal terms with Seattle, after what appeared to be a late Sounders lead by Osvaldo Alonso. After a Penalty Kick goal in the first half from Whitecaps DP (Designated Player), and French striker, Eric Hassli, Vancouver went into halftime leading 1-nil. Mauro Rosales earned his first goal of the year to equalize after putting back a ball from a long cross from the left-wing. Mishandled by Vancouver’s central defense, the ball fell to Rosales near the right post. Osvaldo Alonso, Sounders scrappy midfielder picked off a weak clearance pass by Vancouver’s defense, drifted to his left and ripped a shot from atop the penalty box. Late, but in quick succession Sounders had earned a game-winning lead. Until Hassli spoiled the excitement. Sounders FC looked sure to win. Disappointed, Hassli’s strike was undeniably enjoyable, even to Sounders fans. He left everyone less than disappointed with fascination and wonderment over his brilliant goal.
This week the Sounders continue their mid-season National Hockey League tour, traveling to Toronto. Toronto FC has struggled, but as Sounders fans have learned all too well in its first three years, this probably means Toronto are as poised and hungry as ever to taste victory.
It is mid-season, but teams are readying and playing for post-season.
The challenging mountain for Sounders FC to climb this year is playoff position. No lower than sixth place. Seventh through tenth places play one additional match. Those teams effectively play a first week play-in match. The two play-in winners then join the top six to round out the eight team playoff match-ups. The extra match is something Sounders FC don’t want. It should be time used for rest and preparation. This years playoff format is more simplified. But unlike the last few years, the play-in format will make it more challenging for a lower seed to advance. Avoiding that playoff scenario is critically important for this Sounders team to realistically give themselves a chance to challenge for an MLS title. Mid-season matches, like this one vs Toronto FC, are matches the Sounders have to begin winning if that will happen.
Toronto has struggled to a 2-win, 5-loss, 9 draw record. They have allowed 25 goals. The most goals allowed this year by an MLS squad. The Sounders scored 3 against them in Seattle on April 30th. A 3-nil victory. Toronto feels payback against Seattle is good way to let the league know they are not a team as low as their record.
One player for Toronto has added interest for pay-back. Nathan Sturgis. Seattle released him in the offseason while Toronto picked him up. Combined with his teams desire to pay-back from the 3-nil loss in Seattle, will be his own desire to prove his former team wrong. He will be a motivated and tough midfield challenge for Sounders FC to handle.
Before Seattle’s Rave Green fan invasion into Major League Soccer, Toronto FC was the fan base the league raved about. Continuing to miss playoffs and a poor showing while hosting last seasons MLS Cup, Toronto’s fans have something to prove. Even a feeling of respect to be earned back.
Parity in MLS, meaning teams at the top are never far from the bottom, and teams at the bottom are always close to lifting the MLS Cup. So, Toronto supporters have no reason to think this season can not be turned around on one great win against Seattle. Yes, good sporting stat sense says that is ridiculous. But MLS parity allows that ridiculousness to exist. It is exciting, and it does mean every team is still in playoff pursuit. As much as the Sounders would dread earning a seventh through tenth playoff spot, Toronto and its supporters would covet the opportunity. Their fans would celebrate it.
The Sounders enter Toronto, looking to win 3-nil or 3-1. Toronto envisions a 2-1 or 3-2 statement win. If you enjoy unexplained hunches. The Sounders may not finish today with eleven players on the field. They will have to fight for this win. That fighting desire may also land them a red card. Which opens up the opportunity for revenge that Toronto is looking for.
It’s mid-season. But everyone’s thinking post-season.
© 2011 by Ryan Sales, Sales on Sounders