TUKWILA, Wash. – For each of the past three seasons, the Seattle Sounders have traversed a similar path in completely different ways.
The first part of the season is a struggle, leaving Seattle in the position of desperately needing to make up ground. The second half of the season Seattle makes a massive turnaround to reach the MLS Cup playoffs. And once the playoffs arrive, the Sounders – at least in the previous two seasons – have found their way to the final, winning one and losing one.
It’s all very familiar. It’s also very exhausting.
“The last three seasons have been difficult mentally. … When you’re down in the gutter there is no room for error. At all times you’re on edge,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said.
The Sounders will again be in the postseason thanks to another midseason turnaround that may be the most remarkable of the three. After winning just four of their first 17 games, the Sounders have won 13 of the past 15 matches, including a league-record nine-game winning streak at one point. The run vaulted the Sounders back near the top of the Western Conference standings.
Seattle hasn’t played to a draw since a 1-1 draw at Atlanta United in mid-July and if it beats San Jose in Sunday’s regular-season finale at CenturyLink Field., the Sounders will finish the second half of the season a staggering 14-2-1.
“Unfortunately you don’t want to dig yourself in a hole every year but this year has been very much different because of the streak that we went on. The last couple of years we’ve lost a few here and there, had a couple of ties that kind of disrupted our flow,” midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “All of a sudden this year we win nine in a row, lose one, lose two, and we’re back on a five-game win streak. That’s unheard of. You win 13 games out of 15, it’s pretty incredible.
“In that sense I don’t think we ever imagined being that hot, but we have to continue it going into the playoffs.”
Seattle can finish anywhere from the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference to No. 5 seed depending on its result against San Jose and how other matches around the league play out. If their current position holds, the Sounders would host Cascadia rival Portland in a knockout round match next week that would be sure to draw plenty of attention.
But the No. 2 seed is the goal and a victory would at least open up the possibility of sliding into that spot and earning a bye from the knockout round. Should Seattle win, a draw or loss by FC Dallas – which plays lowly Colorado – would be enough for the Sounders to get the No. 2 seed no matter the outcome of the match between Sporting Kansas City and Los Angeles FC, the current top two teams in the West.
A win by FC Dallas would mean the best Seattle could do is the No. 3 seed.
But from where Seattle was sitting in the standings at midseason, just being in the conversation of having a bye to open the playoffs is a monumental rebound.
“I would prefer to look at the positive of what this team has accomplished after a horrendous start,” coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I would be the first to hold up my hand and say we took it on the chin the first part of the year, but that group of players never quit.”
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