Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo

After a desultory first four months, the lightbulb has finally gone on for the Sounders, as a season-high three-game winning streak has goosed them back into the playoff picture. There's a score to settle tonight against Houston—the Dynamo knocked Seattle out of the playoffs last year. The Sounders are in a transitional phase, as franchise face Freddie Ljungberg was traded to the Chicago Fire on Friday, with the Sounders receiving a conditional draft pick in 2011 or 2012 in return. The Swedish star's replacement in midfield is newly-signed Alvaro Fernandez—at 24, nine years younger than Ljungberg—who just played in four World Cup matches, helping lift Uruguay to a surprising fourth-place finish. The recent addition of another World Cup participant, Blaise Nkufo, is already paying dividends for the Sounders. The veteran Swiss striker’s big, physical presence up front has freed smaller forward Fredy Montero—who has a goal or assist in eight consecutive matches—to play back, in a more natural set-up spot. Another beneficiary has been midfielder Steve Zakuani, who scored both goals, one on a Montero assist, in a recent home win over Colorado—the Sounders’ first victory against a Western Conference opponent in eight attempts this season. MICHAEL MAHONEY

Sun., Aug. 8, 8 p.m., 2010

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