The Seattle Sounders know they’ll make the playoffs if they beat Real Salt Lake on Sunday.
But depending on other events around the closely clustered Western Conference, the Sounders also could advance into the postseason with a draw or even a loss.
However, the only certain path is aiming for the full three points, because this season Major League Soccer has shifted to a schedule that has all 10 Western Conference clubs kicking off their final game at the same time: 4 p.m. (PDT) Sunday.
“In the past, you’d have some games on Friday, some on Saturday, some on Sunday,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “And, obviously, it was a big benefit to the team on Sunday that sort of knew what they had to do or didn’t have to do as they went into that game. … I think it’s a good thing.”
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In addition to Sounders-RSL at CenturyLink Field, the other Sunday games are Vancouver-Houston, Dallas-San Jose, Portland-Colorado and Kansas City-Los Angeles.
Seattle’s postseason fate will be affected by all of them. The Sounders will clinch their seventh consecutive playoff appearance with a draw if San Jose draws, or even with a loss if San Jose loses.
There is another seemingly less likely path to survive with a draw or loss, but that depends on Kansas City getting either one or no points out of its two matches this week.
If the Sounders do qualify, other matches will affect seeding. Seattle begins this week with 48 points: one ahead of San Jose, even with Kansas City, two points behind Portland and Vancouver, and three points behind Los Angeles. That means they head into their final week with the chance of finishing as high as second or sitting at home in seventh.
Only first-place Dallas — which has clinched the conference with 57 points — is out of reach.
There are significant advantages to higher finishes. The third and fourth seeds get to host the loser-out matches against the fifth and sixth finishers, while the first and second finishers go directly to the conference semifinals.
Schmid sees plenty of incentive.
“We want to get three points because it puts us into the best position possible,” he said. “There could be some results that go not like we expect them, or there could even be some results that push us up. … The same is true for other teams, like, for example, the Galaxy. They could finish third or sixth, for all we know. It’s a good thing for the fans. It’s going to make an interesting day.”
With the West in such close quarters, some seeding could come down to tiebreakers: wins, then goal differential. Seattle has 14 wins and a plus-6 differential, while the Galaxy is 14/11, Whitecaps 15/6, Timbers 14/minus 1; Sporting 13/4 and San Jose 13/3.
“I wish we would have gotten some draws earlier when we were on that (summer losing) streak,” Schmid said. “If we would have gotten two or three draws in that streak, that would have given us two or three more points and we’d be in a different position today. It’s good that we’ve shown a capability of being able to come back and equalize (our last two games), but now we’ve got to make sure that we can step out in front and get the first goal and hold onto it.”
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SUNDAY: Real Salt Lake at Seattle,
4 p.m., JOEtv, 97.3-FM