Sounders Take to the Road for the First Time as Burch Returns to D.C.

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Evans' return would give the Sounders a boost.
After last Saturday night's disheartening 1-0 loss to San Jose, Sounders FC fans have a reason to look down the road and circle September 23--the Earthquakes' return to Seattle--on their calendars.

The team has no such luxury, with its focus solely on Saturday's match in Washington, D.C., and the prospect of falling to 2-2 after looking so strong in the season's first two efforts.

The task at hand is a cross-country trip and the first road contest of the season (4:30 p.m., KONG-TV), in a venue where the Sounders have played well over the years, winning three of four matches. RFK Stadium is no longer a house of horrors for visitors, and once-proud D.C. United, an original Major League Soccer franchise and four-time MLS Cup winner, has fallen on hard times, missing the playoffs the past four years and totaling just nine wins and 39 points last season; Seattle doubled that victory total and racked up 63 points.

After starting the season with two losses and a draw, surrendering four goals and scoring once, D.C. flipped the script last Friday at RFK, striking three times in a 13-minute span of the second half and spanking FC Dallas 4-1, a victory that certainly drew the Sounders' attention. Brazilian forward Maicon Santos, acquired in the offseason, scored his first two goals and added an assist. Santos, a bullish presence at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, excels with his back to the goal and should be a handful for Seattle defenders.

Midfielders Danny Cruz and Nick DeLeon, who is emerging as one of the league's top rookies, also scored for D.C. DeLeon--whose father also played in Washington, for the North American Soccer League's Diplomats nearly 40 years ago, before ending his NASL career in Seattle in 1979--is off to a fast start, with two goals and an assist.

Reigning league MVP Dwayne DeRosario, expected to be D.C.'s main offensive threat again after scoring a league-high 16 goals and assisting on 12 more last year, has taken on a different role, dropping back into central midfield and focusing more on possession.

D.C.'s final line of defense could be vulnerable, as backup Joe Willis again gets the start in goal. Willis, who didn't see much action last year as a rookie and is 2-3-1 in six MLS starts, is subbing for starter Bill Hamid, out with a sprained ankle suffered playing for the U.S. under-23 team in the Olympic qualifying tournament that concluded this past week.

One Sounder knows D.C. very well: defender Marc Burch played there for five years before signing with Seattle in January. Burch, in his seventh MLS season, has brought size and skill to the back four, starting all three matches on the left. For the most part, he's been solid--although he was baited by San Jose forward/instigator Steven Lenhart into committing the foul that resulted in Chris Wondolowski's decisive penalty kick--and will be out to demonstrate that D.C. made a mistake in letting him go.

The best news for Sounders fans smarting from last week's result is the team's gradual return to health--after battling through a series of injuries to starters throughout the season's first month, Seattle could get at least two of them back on Saturday.

Defender Adam Johansson and midfielder Brad Evans, dogged by strained hamstrings, are poised to return. Johansson's breakout speed and propensity to launch attacks down the right wing would give the left side of D.C.'s defense something to think about, while Evans' steadiness, veteran savvy and ability to join the attack were sorely missed against San Jose. Defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado departed after the first half last week with a pelvic injury; if he can't go, Jeff Parke, voted Seattle's top defender last season, would likely make his first 2012 start after an effective second half in relief of Hurtado.

The wild card is up front, where veteran forward Eddie Johnson, a major offseason acquisition, may return a week earlier than planned after going 60 minutes and scoring Sunday in a scrimmage against Gonzaga. Johnson, a proven goal scorer with seven MLS seasons under his belt, hasn't played a single minute this season due to a strained hip, but if he's healthy enough, the prospect of pairing him with Fredy Montero and dropping David Estrada back into the midfield may be too tempting for Sigi Schmid to pass up.

Mauro Rosales, a creative force in midfield who suffered a sprained right knee late in the opener against Toronto FC, traveled to Washington with the team but is unlikely to play; the target date for his return is April 14 at home against Colorado.

 
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