Seattle Sounders FC and the Colorado Rapids are set to do battle in a key Western Conference clash at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.
The two sides are only separated by two points in the table as Seattle (7 points) trails Colorado (9 points), and Saturday's result could reveal which is a true contender and which has some work to do.
Seattle and Colorado both started the season with back-to-back wins, but they have hit a slight rough patch since. Over their last three games, the Rapids have accumulated three points while the Sounders have managed to pick up just two points.
David Estrada's brilliant start to the season seems like a distant memory for Sounders fans. The youngster netted four goals in the opening two games, but has not scored since. Estrada's struggles are indicative of the team's impotency in front of net as Seattle has been held scoreless for its last 245 minutes of league play.
"The goals will come," defender Jeff Parke said. "Keep zeroes in the back, that will do. As long as you keep a blank sheet in the back, anything can happen."
The Sounders defense did just that in their last outing, playing to a 0-0 draw with D.C. United to salvage a point at RFK Stadium. Sigi Schmid's men have yet to concede more than one goal in a match this season.
"It's great," defender Patrick Ianni said. "We have some good defenders here. They've done a good job of bringing guys in all over the field. We're a deep team and it will help us in the long term."
The odds may be stacked in Seattle's favor as Colorado has a 1-2-0 record away from home this season. The Rapids have also conceded three goals in the opening 20 minutes of their road matches this year, a total that may increase against a Sounders side that is desperate for goals.
"That first 10, 15, 20 minutes [away from home], we haven't been good enough," defender Drew Moor said. "I don't think there's one thing you can put your finger on, we just need to start better."
Colorado's last encounter, a 2-0 defeat at Real Salt Lake, saw head coach Oscar Pareja make a defense-minded adjustment by moving Drew Moor into the center of midfield alongside Jeff Larentowicz in an attempt to neutralize the Claret and Cobalt's possession-oriented style of play.
"We wanted to be more solid defensively, partnering Drew with Jeff [Larentowicz]," Pareja said. "I thought it was a need to have somebody who could help Jeff to get the ball back for us. I thought we did a pretty good job in that part. But we gave [possession] right back to them."
Seattle's formidable midfield, with MVP-candidate Osvaldo Alonso as the lynchpin, may encourage Pareja to employ a similar tactic Saturday but with more emphasis on maintaining possession.