TUKWILA, Wash. – At times during their three-game losing streak, the Seattle Sounders have seemed almost overwhelmed by the opportunities facing them.
Five games ago they were in the Supporters’ Shield lead and a favorite to win MLS Cup. They haven’t won since, and in the last 270 minutes the Sounders have been outscored 10-2 and are now just trying to qualify for the playoffs.
Yet most of the big-picture goals they set for themselves are still achievable. A win over FC Dallas on Saturday (2:30 pm ET; NBC) would punch their postseason ticket. If they follow that up with a win over the LA Galaxy in the season finale – a game that is set to be played in front of a crowd of at least 64,000 – the Sounders could possibly still win the Shield.
“This is what it’s like to be a part of the biggest franchise in the league,” Sounders forward Eddie Johnson said earlier this week. “There’s pressure, there’s expectations. At the end of the day, we’re two points away from first place and in a perfect world winning both of our games puts ourselves in a position to win the Supporters’ Shield. The most important thing is we can’t panic as a team and as an organization.
“Every team hits a patch where it’s very challenging in their season and this weekend is a big test for us. It’s going to show the character for this team.”
Johnson, the Sounders’ leading scorer with nine goals, has missed the past two games while recovering from an injury he suffered while with the United States national team. He actually seems to be looking forward to what promises to be a wild finish.
“I think this is why [all the players on the team] are here,” he said. “It’s not only for the good times, winning games and 14 games unbeaten at home, but through the difficult times as well. Not only when things are going good, but when things are going bad we have to show as a team what kind of quality we have in the dressing room and embrace it on the field in the last few games.”
Which players, exactly, will be available is still a bit of an unknown. Of the regulars, Johnson has been nursing a hamstring injury; Clint Dempsey is dealing with a shoulder sprain; Obafemi Martins has a groin injury; Brad Evans is just back from national team duty; and Osvaldo Alonso will be serving a one-game suspension from his red card in last weekend's loss to Portland. Several other contributors are listed as questionable as well.
“The injuries and missing guys with national team call-ups has affected our ability to have some continuity,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid admitted. “That’s what we’re looking for is some continuity to train.
But, “It’s still a game we have to be ready to play and the guys on the field have to be ready to play.”