The Seattle Sounders are still in first place in the Western Conference, but their perch atop the table is currently on precarious ground following Saturday's 2-1 home defeat to Sporting Kansas City at Lumen Field.
The result gives Seattle a three-point cushion ahead of Sporting KC and the Colorado Rapids, with three games to go and Sporting KC holding a game in hand. That means every match remains crucial in the regular season's final push, starting with Tuesday's road bout against LAFC (10:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes) that will pit the Sounders against a team fighting for their playoff lives.
Speaking with reporters after his team's training session Monday, Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer said he's confident his team will be a force come the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs as they look to bounce back from their current run of three games without a win.
"I think [resilience] has been indicative of this squad for many, many years," Schmetzer said of the Sounders, who have already clinched a 13th straight postseason appearance. "I think we take the highs, we take the lows, we've been a pretty consistent franchise. I think our record overall since '09 speaks to that. I think over the last five years our record as spoke to that, we're pretty consistent. So, yes, [the Kansas City game] was gut-punch. The Houston game we dropped points, we dropped points earlier on in the year, there was a stretch of games where we took one point out of nine at home. So we've had those little bumps in the road, but we've always come back.
"And, look, let's just be honest, we've got three games to go, there might be a blip in these three games.," he added. "But I still have confidence that no one's going to want to play us in the playoffs, home or away. Look, we'd be happy to have the home fans and the homefield and all that, but I have confidence in my team home or away in the playoffs. We get Nico [Lodeiro] back, Jordan [Morris] back, Raul [Ruidiaz] is back, everybody's back, people won't want to play us. "
The last point Schmetzer mentioned is a crucial one, as Seattle inch closer to a clean bill of health.
Ruidiaz rejoined Sounders training Monday after a stint with the Peruvian national team that saw him reaggravate a hamstring injury he originally sustained in a September match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Schmetzer said that his go-to goal-scorer looked solid at Monday's practice, and while Tuesday's match "might be a stretch," he expects Ruidiaz to be ready for at least one of Seattle's final two games of the season.
Then there's Morris, who continues to inch closer to his return as he rehabs a torn ACL suffered last winter while on loan with Swansea City. Lodeiro has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury.
"Jordan is still on that medical timeline that for the life of me I cannot move because I'm not a doctor. I think he looks great. He believes he's ready, but he's on that medical timeline," Schmetzer said. "And Nico, that was a surprising one, he's looked very good. I'm going to go in and talk to him now. If he feels good, there might be a chance we take him and that would be good for him, good for the team. He feels good, he's already got clearance from his doctor, so he's a little bit different than Jordan."
A return to full strength would be a massive boost for Seattle in the playoffs, but the focus remains on LAFC, who Schmetzer noted will have everything to play for on Tuesday. Bob Bradley's group is currently three points shy of Vancouver Whitecaps FC for the West's final playoff spot, with two home games left where they know three points are crucial.
"I think all of us really felt it after the game because that was an opportunity we didn't take advantage of," Schmetzer said. "Now it's a little bit more challenging. We're still in first place, barely, we've got some work to do, but we'll see how we respond. They're missing a few players, suspensions, injuries, some big players, but they will be a challenging team because they know that these two home games for them are critical. I know Bob, he's a great coach, he's going to get his team ready for this game.
"We'll have our hands full."