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Shea must shoulder the scoring burden for Dallas; Gonzalez sits this one out.
-- The best start in franchise history, with six wins and a

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Off to Franchise-Best Start, Sounders Take Four-Match Winning Streak to Dallas

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Shea must shoulder the scoring burden for Dallas; Gonzalez sits this one out.
-- The best start in franchise history, with six wins and a draw in their first eight matches.

-- A winning streak of four matches, unbeaten in five, with five shutouts (Michael Gspurning 3½, Bryan Meredith 1½) in their past seven.

-- Unprecedented depth: 21 players have started this season, with six making their MLS debuts and two more their first appearances wearing Rave Green, with a back four that goes seven deep and a legitimate eight-to-nine-man rotation in midfield.

-- Major League Soccer's best (and most successful) head coach, with 163 victories over 12-plus seasons for three teams, and a pair of MLS Cups.

It's been many years since it's been such a good time to be a soccer fan in Seattle, going back to the often-magical decade from 1974 to 1983, when the North American Soccer League's Sounders filled the brand-new Kingdome to capacity. The next step takes place tonight, with a visit to FC Dallas (5:30 p.m., KONG-TV), a middle-of-the-pack side that's moving backward at the same pace that Sounders FC is surging forward.

It's a classic trap game, one you'd be forgiven for looking past as a fan (not as a player, if Sigi and his staff are doing their job), especially with a huge contest three days down the road at home against West-leading Real Salt Lake, which knocked Seattle out of the playoffs last fall, the Sounders' third first-round ouster in as many years.

Dallas is far from the league's worst team (take a bow, Toronto FC, and give thanks there's no such thing as relegation in MLS), but they're the anti-Sounders right now. The team with the distinctive red-and-white hoops on its jersey last won a match April 14, going 0-2-2 since while scoring just twice. Dallas has played two more matches than the Sounders, but won only three, half as many as Seattle.

Things hit a new low on Sunday night, as the home side imploded in a 2-0 loss to Colorado. After former Sounder Tyrone Marshall's takedown of Dallas midfielder Jackson Goncalves on an early breakaway failed to draw a yellow card, a pair of Dallas players decided to take the law into their own hands--or feet, in this case--with disastrous results. In the 34th minute, Daniel Hernandez challenged Colorado's Martin Rivero late and drew his second yellow card in a nine-minute span; he'd drawn his first for barking at an official. Two minutes later, Blas Pérez received a straight red card for spiking Drew Moor in the leg.

The lapses of judgment mean both players must sit out tonight's match as well. Hernandez is a tenacious (make that overly tenacious, with two red cards in his past seven matches) 16-year MLS veteran who's started all but one match this season, but Perez is an even bigger loss. The first-year Panamanian forward is Dallas' best all-around offensive talent, with three goals and three assists, both team highs.

Two more absences are the last thing this team needed, with defender (and captain) Ugo Ihemelu among six midfielders and defenders--David Ferreira, Ricardo Villar, Andrew Wiedeman, Carlos Rodriguez, and Bobby Warshaw are the others--sidelined by injuries.

That puts the onus on another midfielder, Brek Shea, who sat out against Colorado with a painful turf toe condition after making six consecutive starts, scoring in three of the final four matches. Shea, a rangy 6-foot-4 with a distinctive shock of blond hair, broke out last year with 11 goals and has found a consistent place in the U.S. National Team's lineup under Jurgen Klinsmann. Shea is listed as questionable, but expect him to be out there; it's hard to see where Dallas' offense comes from if he isn't.

By contrast, the injury woes that have dogged the Sounders for two months are beginning to fade. Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez, who's missed the past three weeks with a strained quad, could return tonight but probably will wait until Saturday against RSL to come back.

He's not injured, but defender Leo Gonzalez won't play after being fined an undisclosed amount and suspended one match by MLS for stepping on the leg of prone Philadelphia defender Sheanon Williams in the closing minutes on Saturday. That gives the start at left back to Marc Burch for the second consecutive match.

After making his MLS debut a week ago in relief of the injured Gspurning, Meredith started for the first time, looked cool and confident, and was forced to make only one save in recording the clean sheet. The other 22-year-old Sounder making his first start (and MLS debut) was English rookie Andy Rose, a former UCLA star who gave Brad Evans a much-deserved rest in central midfield.

From the opening kick, the high-energy Rose ran around like a puppy on Christmas morning: checking everything out, never staying anywhere for long, and ultimately, making a mess and being removed from the living room.

Rose's equivalent of pooping on the rug was a spikes-high attempt against Philadelphia's Michael Farfan in the 18th minute that drew a yellow card. His challenge from behind on Freddy Adu 10 minutes later was even more ill-advised, and would have drawn a red card and expulsion if referee Ricardo Salazar had seen it--which he apparently didn't.

Despite the Union's vigorous protests, Rose kept playing, nearly breaking a scoreless tie two minutes into the second half, wedging his 6-2 frame into a scrum in front of the Philly goal and getting his head to Mauro Rosales' corner kick, but banging it straight into the crossbar, above Union keeper Zac MacMath's outstretched hand.

Rose finally exited eight minutes later, giving way to Eddie Johnson, who drew immediate attention from the defense, enabling Fredy Montero to get free on the left, where he found the space for a nifty pass across the top of the box to Rosales, who got a better angle and cooly drilled his shot into the far corner for the only goal the Sounders would need:

Rosales also scored the lone goal as the Sounders won at Dallas last August for the first time after playing to a draw the previous two seasons. Ten days later, Montero scored his third goal in seven starts against Dallas in a 1-0 U.S. Open Cup semifinal win.

Johnson will make his first appearance in an MLS uniform in Dallas since October 2007, when he played for the Kansas City Wizards. Johnson, who has scored in two of Seattle's past three matches, made 84 appearances for Dallas from 2001-05, scoring 24 goals.

Dallas defender George John has a Seattle connection: the Shoreline native and Shorewood grad was a three-year starter (2006-08) for the Huskies.

 
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