With backs against the wall, Seattle prepare for a battle with San Jose

Andreas Ivanschitz - Seattle Sounders - Celebrates a Goal

TUKWILA, Wash. – As the Seattle Sounders get set to return from their two-week break from MLS play on Saturday with a road matchup against the San Jose Earthquakes, they enter a stretch run that will make or break their 2016 season.

Going into Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), the Sounders (9-13-4, 31 points) are four points behind the Portland Timbers for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, and first must vault over San Jose (7-8-11, 32 points) in order to get there.

The golden opportunity to make up some of that ground isn’t lost on the Sounders as they prepare for the matchup, midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz told reporters after Seattle’s practice on Wednesday.

“[Saturday's game] is a final for us,” Ivanschitz said. “But it’s also a final for them. We have to continue to battle and fight and believe in ourselves in order to make the playoffs. They’ll give us all they have but so will we.”

Added interim head coach Brian Schmetzer: “We’re in a bind. It’s of the utmost importance to put aside the fact that it’s a long season and to get rid of the excuses, to stay fresh physically and mentally so we can win a few more games and get into the playoffs.”

Seattle stand to regain the services of several players who have been away from the club on national team duty for World Cup qualifying, including midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay), forward Jordan Morris (US) and defender Roman Torres (Panama).

The status of Clint Dempsey, however, is not clear. The star forward hasn’t trained with the club since it was announced he was undergoing a medical evaluation for an irregular heartbeat on Aug. 26 and Schmetzer has declined to divulge information on his status throughout the week.

The Sounders will also have to contend with an opponent that has proven to be a consistent thorn in their side.

Even with a 2-0 victory over the Quakes at CenturyLink Field in the only other matchup between the sides this season, Seattle are still just 3-8-2 against San Jose since 2012. Forward Chris Wondolowski has also netted nine career goals against Seattle, the most of any Sounders opponent.

Schmetzer downplayed that inauspicious history on Wednesday, but did note the level of intensity that always seems to accompany match-ups with his team’s West Coast rivals.

“I remember a game in Kezar Stadium, I mean, that was an alley fight. That was just a slugfest. I think it goes both ways,” Schmetzer said. “You guys know the stats better than me but I’m looking forward to two teams that are in need of points and two good soccer teams.

“So hopefully it’s not a street fight but a soccer match and may the better team win.”