Coming off a home loss to the Portland Timbers, the Seattle Sounders found themselves in 11th place of the Western Conference at the end of June. If there ever was a point in time the Sounders’ season was on the brink it was then.
Fast forward four months. The Sounders wake up on Thursday morning as the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs, yet there season is even more in peril. They host those same Timbers in the second leg of the conference semifinals, trailing 2-1 after dropping the opener on Sunday in Portland.
The Sounders would advance with a shutout win or a two-goal margin of victory. A draw or loss would advance Portland, while a 2-1 Seattle win on Thursday would force extra time (and penalty kicks if necessary).
So it’s not going to be easy.
And the Sounders will have to get by the Pacific Northwest rivals without their starting center back, Chad Marshall, and potentially a key member of their midfield, Christian Roldan. Marshall had right knee surgery on Tuesday and is out; Roldan is hobbled by a hip flexor strain and is considered a game-time decision to start.
So whatever Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer has come up with to offset these factors, don’t expect it to include a dramatic, “Win one for the Gipper,” type speech after Wednesday’s practice, which could be the last one of the season.
“We treat it as any pregame training session,” Schmetzer said. “We’re going over all the details — all of the small, little things that will help us win games. We’re focused on that, there’s no special messaging. There will certainly be some words. The reality, they know. We’ll remind them and they’ll be ready.”
In regards to Roldan’s status, Schmetzer isn’t counting on him starting.
“At this point, it might be a stretch,” Schmetzer said. “Until he warms up tomorrow, that’s when I’ll know if he’ll be able to start.”
Marshall immediate availability is certain — he’s out after having his meniscus repaired — but Schmetzer did not rule out a Marshall return if the Sounders were to advance deeper into the playoffs.
“His surgery went well, Schmetzer said. “Two and a half, three — maybe four weeks — is the healing time in some cases. That all depends on the individual, I know we’re going to give him the resources and everything to get him back on the field as fast as we can.”
The injuries will definitely test the Sounders depth. Midfielder Harry Shipp, who played about 10 minutes in the first leg, said the team’s reserves will need to make a big contribution if the Sounders are to move on to the conference finals.
“It’s fun. For me, I’m someone who is always pretty composed,” Shipp said. “I’m never going to panic no matter what the situation is so I think for me, I’m glad they trust me to go out there in those last 10 minutes and compete. I’m going to think just as clearly as I would a regular season game. It’s all the same, it’s soccer.”
It’s soccer, but it’s an elimination game. Against your rival. It’s like the Sounders’ season has been scripted by someone in Hollywood — how else would you explain the team’s 15-2-2 run after that June 30 loss to Portland to even get to this point in the season?
“It’s normal to face adversity, we had the two injuries go down so we were kind of scrambling,” Sounders forward Will Bruin said. “Coming away with a one-goal deficit and scoring the away goal is huge.
“We’re confident going into to this game. We know we have the ability and the quality to go in there and score two, three goals. We’re a very confident group and this is what you want. You want a chance to play your rival and knock them out of the playoffs.”