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Alonso and Tony Tchani will battle in midfield.
Sounders FC are in what passes for a slump these days; they haven't won in two weeks.

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Sigi's Former Crew Comes to Town as Sounders Host Columbus

alonso_crew1.jpg
Alonso and Tony Tchani will battle in midfield.
Sounders FC are in what passes for a slump these days; they haven't won in two weeks. They've played six teams with non-winning records this season, winning all six while outscoring their opposition 11-1. No. 7 is the Columbus Crew, who visit CenturyLink Field tonight (7 p.m., KONG-TV).

The Crew have seniority on their side--it's their 17th season in Major League Soccer, just the Sounders' fourth--but that's their only advantage. Columbus players will look across the FieldTurf tonight and see the man who guided the franchise to its greatest glory--winning the MLS Cup in 2008. That would be Sigi Schmid, who left the Crew after that season to take over the expansion Sounders. Schmid's current team is unbeaten against his former one, with four wins and three draws in seven matches, including a 2-1 victory at the Clink in the 2010 U.S. Open Cup Final, and his Seattle teams have outscored Columbus 16-6.

The injury-riddled Crew, seventh in the Eastern Conference at 3-4-3, good for 12 points, have just one victory in their past seven matches (although they're unbeaten in their past three), and when the Sounders are at full strength, there's only one player in Columbus' first 11--defender Chad Marshall, who will miss his fourth consecutive match after suffering a concussion last month--who would start ahead of his Seattle counterpart.

In many ways, this franchise hasn't yet recovered from the loss of a single player--Argentine midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto, whose playmaking abilities keyed the Crew's MLS Cup run four years ago; he left Columbus after the 2010 season. Seven players have scored for Columbus this year, which isn't bad; their leading scorers, forward Justin Meram and midfielder Eddie Gaven, have two goals each, which isn't good.

Columbus put forth one of its best efforts this season last Saturday at San Jose--one of two teams to beat the Sounders--but saw victory snatched away in the 90th minute on a goal by second-half substitute Alan Gordon, and had to settle for a 1-1 draw. Keeper Andy Gruenebaum kept the Crew in the match with a career-high seven saves, including a denial of Chris Wondolowski's penalty kick.

The Crew, who have won just two of 16 matches (2-7-7) on the West Coast since 2009, should get an important offensive piece back in their lineup: promising young midfielder Dilly Duka, who had been out since mid-April with a strained hamstring, played 30 minutes as a substitute at San Jose and is a likely starter on the right.

Brad Evans, who played for Columbus in 2007 and 2008, has missed the past two matches with a strained calf. He's ready to return to Seattle's lineup, giving the Sounders the option of starting their first-choice midfield--Evans and Ozzie Alonso in the center, Alvaro Fernandez on the left, and Mauro Rosales on the right--for the first time since the season opener on March 17.

Two other starters, keeper Michael Gspurning and left back Leo Gonzalez, are recovering from a strained hip and quad, respectively, but are unlikely to play. Rookie Bryan Meredith will get his fifth consecutive start in place of Gspurning, as will Marc Burch for Gonzalez.

Fredy Montero is the rare Sounder who hasn't been bitten by the injury bug, playing in all 11 matches and starting 10, but if he keeps scoring goals like his stunning 90th-minute shot that earned a 2-2 draw at Vancouver last Saturday in this season's first Cascadia Cup match, he won't be around here much longer.

Controlling a ball headed to him at the top of the box by Eddie Johnson off Meredith's well-placed goal kick, Montero's first touch was perfect, as he eluded a lunging effort by the Whitecaps' best defender, Jay DeMerit. He slid to the right around the other central defender, Martín Bonjour, found an opening and curled a shot just inside the right post that left keeper Joe Cannon flat-footed. The goal, Montero's fourth in the past five matches, displayed skill and touch rarely seen in MLS, and uncommon at any level.

Montero, who was scoreless through March and April, and Johnson have now combined for seven goals and three assists in the past six matches.

Dutch power Ajax, where Rosales played for three seasons, has indicated interest in Montero, and the 24-year-old Colombian, along with FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea, is believed to be at the top of the wish list for Liverpool of the English Premier League. It's only a matter of time before either club--or another wealthy European side--makes an multimillion-dollar offer that Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer can't refuse.

So enjoy the Montero magic while you can, and look forward to seeing what he and his teammates can do against Chelsea, the newly crowned European champion, in a friendly at the Clink on July 18, a rematch of the 2009 contest won 2-0 by the west London club.

The Sounders found out last night who their opposition will be next week as their run for an unprecedented fourth consecutive U.S. Open Cup gets underway. Seattle will face the Atlanta Silverbacks of the second-division North American Soccer League next Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a third-round match at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila. Atlanta defeated the Georgia Revolution of the fourth-division National Premier Soccer League 1-0 last night in Conyers, Ga., on a goal by midfielder Raphael Cox, a Tacoma native who played for the University of Washington from 2006-08.

 
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