SOUNDING OUT THE SOUNDERS

Posted on: Wed 18 Jul 2012

When Chelsea played Seattle Sounders three years ago to the day we ran out 2-0 winners against a side containing Kesey Keller and Freddie Ljungberg, but as ever in football, times change and while only two of the Chelsea side that started that game look likely to play on Wednesday night, the Sounders are much changed too (Keller will be commentating on the game, Ljungberg's career hit the buffers in Japan).

While in Seattle, the official Chelsea website has been finding out about our first pre-season opponents and shares the information here.

The MLS season started in March and it has been a rollercoaster one for the north-west coast side with five wins in the first seven MLS games taking them to the top of the table, only for a slump to begin in mid-May. That corresponded to injuries across the defence and to their goalkeeper. However the revival has begun in the last month and unbeaten in four, the Sounders currently sit third out of nine in the Western Conference table.

They have also advanced to the final of the US Open Cup, the American equivalent to the FA Cup and having won it the last three years, they will become the first team in the competition's 99-year history to win four in a row should they defeat Sporting Kanas City in Kansas in early August.

On Sunday, the Sounders drew 2-2 away against New York Red Bulls, going 1-0 up before conceding two goals but then equalising in the second half. Thierry Henry was only just back for the New York side following a hamstring pull.

Sounders are now in a two-week break from competitive fixtures which means most of their squad will be deployed against Chelsea to keep the rhythm going.

Striker Eddie Johnson (pictured top) is the most recognisable name to fans back in the UK following his spell at Fulham and loans at Cardiff and Preston. The 28-year-old US international returned to the MLS for this season and has eight goals in 16 appearances. Having missed pre-season, he is now fully-firing and may face Chelsea twice in eight days having been selected for the MLS All-Stars squad.

Fredy Montero, a 24-year-old Columbian, has been the leading scorer the past three years and usually starts the season slowly but starts firing in the summer months. He scored against the New York Red Bulls and is one of the players remaining from the last visit by Chelsea.

Michael Gspurning is the goalkeeper whose injury, coupled with the need to reshuffle the defence, led to goals leaking in and the consequent bad patch. He is an Austrian who previously played in the Greek league and may make his return to action for part of this game. If he does it will be his first action for a couple of months.

Osvaldo Alonso (pictured below left) is another player who followers of the Sounders would tell you to look out for. A former Cuban international, he defected during a tournament in the States in 2007 and has played there ever since. A defensive midfielder, he is the second Sounders player in next week's MLS All-Stars squad.

Seattle


Forward Steve Zakuani is another working his way back from injury and is a former Arsenal trainee. He, like Alonso, played Chelsea in 2009.

Coach Sigi Schmid asks his team to play in ways familiar to any European football fan. Formations vary but usually lone striker Eddie Johnson will be supported by a more withdrawn forward or a midfielder pushed up.

Alonso is the anchor man in a midfield where rotation of positions is encouraged and players are versatile enough to fill in for one another. A back four will always be played and the team try to go on the attack without much passing around in their own half.

The MLS competition is considered to be in good health at the moment. Plenty of goals are being scored this season and younger players join the league from abroad rather than just those on the downward slope of their careers.

When Chelsea played here three years ago, an attendance record for a Sounders game was set at 65,289. Ticket sales have again been good and the upper tier of the CenturyLink Field stadium, closed for MLS games, will again be open.

Seattle


Seattle continues to be a hotbed of football interest in the United States and several thousand fans attended Chelsea's open training session inside the stadium, 24 hours ahead of the game.

Thanks to Mike Ferris from the Sounders for help with this article.