With Real Salt Lake failing to win at Colorado last night — a scoreless draw that even insomniacs would have trouble recollecting — the Seattle Sounders officially secured the second automatic playoff spot in the Western Conference and the privilege of hosting the second leg of the conference semifinals. Thus, the Sounders have little else to play for over their remaining two regular season games other than preparing their squad for the postseason.
Despite that fact, over 62,000 rave green clad supporters — and a few hundred dressed in Blue and Black — will fill Century Link Field on the shore of Puget Sound nearly to capacity tonight for a meaningless MLS game between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Seattle Sounders. While inconsequential to the standings, the match marks the last regular season home game for Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who is retiring from soccer after a 20 year professional career that has seen the former U.S. International set the standard for American players finding success both domestically and abroad.
The record Seattle crowd will also witness the awarding of the Heritage Cup to the winner of tonight’s match. A supporter-driven trophy created in 2008, the Heritage Cup is contested among MLS teams that share a link to their NASL namesakes. Also open to the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps — and perhaps one day the New York Cosmos — the trophy is only being contested by the Earthquakes and Sounders in 2011. By virtue of the teams’ 2-2 draw earlier this year at Buck Shaw Stadium, tonight is a winner-take-all for the bronze cup.
The Earthquakes will feature a line-up similar to that which has led a late-season resurgence in the form of a unbeaten in six of their last seven matches streak. Okay, not technically a streak, and certainly not a stretch of results that helped push the Earthquakes any closer to a playoff berth from the day it began, the team’s recent run of form has featured a much more enjoyable brand of soccer and the bonus of having Chris Wondolowski creep up into a tie for the MLS Golden Boot award with two weekends left in the regular season. Currently level with the New York Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry and DC United’s Dwayne De Rosario, Wondolowski has two matches left to take the lead in the goal scoring race and capture a second consecutive Golden Boot.
This evening in Seattle, Wondolowski will see a familiar starting XI around him. Returning to man the goal is Jon Busch, whose backup David Bingham had a great game last week in the team’s win in New England, but was not in the plans to start in Seattle prior to that game. The other change from the regular eleven comes in the center of midfield, where team captain Ramiro Corrales gets a week off to rehabilitate the ankle injury he suffered against the Revolution. In his stead steps in second year midfielder Brad Ring, who has started a number of games for head coach Frank Yallop’s side this season and last.
Chris Wondolowski Khari Stephenson
Simon Dawkins Rafael Baca
Sam Cronin Brad Ring
Justin Morrow Bobby Burling Jason Hernandez Steven Beitashour
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