The Seattle Sounders head into the final day of this MLS regular season with their postseason fate still to be determined.
The Sounders have never missed the playoffs — a run of six consecutive seasons — and the chance of stretching that to seven remains in their hands: win and they’re in, regardless of other results.
Seattle also can get through with a draw or even a loss, depending on other results — a loss by either San Jose or Kansas City, for example. But if the Sounders don’t want to leave their fate to other teams playing in simultaneous games across the conference, they need three points.
“At this stage we can finish anywhere from second to seventh, but we know if we win the game we will be somewhere between second and fifth,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “There are things that are outside of our control, but what is inside of our control is our ability to go out there and play well and win the game.”
When the Sounders and Real Salt Lake kick off at 4 p.m. at fully open CenturyLink Field, four other Western Conference games also will begin: Vancouver-Houston, Dallas-San Jose, Sporting Kansas City-Los Angeles and Portland-Colorado.
Every game means something. Dallas already has clinched the West’s top seed, but is even with the New York Red Bulls for the Supporters’ Shield. Los Angeles and Vancouver have clinched playoff spots, but are playing for seeding advantages. And among the four-team cluster of Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and San Jose, only three will make the playoffs.
Salt Lake is already eliminated, ending what had been a league-record run of seven consecutive postseasons.
That sets up a Seattle-RSL finale that matches a team struggling for its playoff life against a team that might as well show up in Hawaiian shirt and flip flops. As Kris Kristofferson famously wrote: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
“If they open themselves up, cheat a little bit for counters and lose 4-0, they don’t care,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “But if they get two or three goals that way, then cool, I guess. The pressure is off for them, if you will, so they have the freedom to just go forward and do what they want.”
But despite playing for little more than pride, Schmid believes RSL has enough of that to offer a stiff challenge. For any doubters, he points to the Wednesday game when mathematically eliminated Colorado went to desperately driven SKC and took a 2-0 result, despite playing the final minutes shorthanded.
“Nobody’s going to expect Salt Lake to roll over and play dead,” Schmid said. “I think their character and their history is too good for that to happen.”
The game will play out before a crowd of around 54,000, which will allow the Sounders to set their sixth MLS attendance record over their seven seasons since joining the league.
“Initially you always have that feeling, ‘OK, when the bubble is going to burst’ and that kind of thing,” Schmid said. “But the fans have been great, and it’s been so consistent and setting another attendance record possibly this year with our fan total this year is extraordinary. I don’t know if you can say it completely, but it’s become part of the fabric now, rather than just being a novelty. I don’t think soccer here in the Northwest is a novelty anymore, it’s part of the fabric.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (14-13-6; 48 POINTS)
VS. REAL SALT LAKE (11-14-8; 41 POINTS)
4 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field.
TV: JOEtv. Radio: 97.3-FM
Head to head: RSL leads 7-5-4 overall; the Sounders lead 4-2-2 in Seattle. RSL won the previous meeting, 2-0, on Aug. 22 in Utah.
Notes: This is the final day of the MLS regular season. The 10 Western Conference teams will pair off with all five final matches beginning at 4 p.m. PDT. … The Sounders qualify for the playoffs with a win, regardless of other results. A draw also would get them through if combined a loss or draw by either San Jose or Kansas City. Seattle also would advance with a loss if either San Jose or Kansas City loses. … Once playoff seeding is known, the first games will have the No. 6 finisher visiting the No. 3 finisher and the No. 5 finisher visiting the No. 4 finisher on Wednesday and Thursday. The top two finishers advance directly to the conference semifinals. … RSL has been eliminated from playoff consideration, snapping its league-high streak of seven consecutive postseason appearances. … Seattle has a seven-game unbeaten streak (3-0-4). Salt Lake is 1-3 in its last four. … The Sounders are 10-4-2 at home. RSL is 4-10-2 away. … Obafemi Martins leads Seattle with 15 goals, two short of his club record. Clint Dempsey has nine assists, one short of his career high. … Javier Morales leads Salt Lake with nine goals and 11 assists. … RSL is 8-22-16 all-time on artificial surfaces, including 0-3-1 this season. … The stadium will be open to full capacity. A crowd of around 54,000 is expected, which would set an MLS season-attendance record. … The referee is Sorin Stoica.
Quote: “It’s do or die. I think we know there’s a bit of pressure there, but it’s in our own hands, which is just great. At home, obviously, with our fans behind us, we fancy our chances.” — Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Next: If the Sounders qualify for the playoffs, their opening pairing should be known soon after the final whistle. If they do not qualify, they return to action in February to meet Club America of Mexico in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.