Head coach Brian Schmetzer recognizes the situation before him: Seattle Sounders FC face real danger of missing the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since entering the league in 2009.
“The playoffs are still within reach, but I do agree with everybody in the room and all the fans that time is running out,” Schmetzer said after Sunday’s 2-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake. “We've got to figure this out very quickly.”
Seattle have made the postseason 13 years straight and lifted the Concacaf Champions League trophy in May, becoming the first-ever MLS club to win the regional tournament’s modern-day version. Their triumph over Pumas UNAM snapped a stretch of Liga MX dominance and booked a FIFA Club World Cup spot in the winter.
But they end Week 25 in ninth place in the Western Conference standings, one point off the pace with nine games to go. They have a game in hand on seventh-place Nashville SC for the final spot.
Now comes a three-game road swing, starting with Western Conference matchups at LA Galaxy (Aug. 19) and Portland Timbers (Aug. 26) – two clubs one point above them – before a cross-conference trip to Orlando City SC (Aug. 31). Their outlook, with a half-month away from Lumen Field awaiting, should get much clearer soon.
“The message is you've got to win your home games,” said Schmetzer, who led Seattle to MLS Cup titles in 2016 and 2019. “It's hard to win on the road in MLS, so we can't wait until there's a couple of hard road games coming up. So this was a critical moment where we could have pushed ourselves into a better position. And then thought about a couple of tough games.”
In straightforward fashion, Schmetzer said postgame “we have to score more goals.” The Cascadian club has scored twice just once in their current 2W-6L-0D stretch, getting star striker Raul Ruidiaz back into the starting lineup Sunday for the first time since July 9 vs. Portland. The Peruvian international was limited to 65 minutes vs. RSL, a workload cap as he returns from a hamstring injury.
As challenges persist, utility man Kelyn Rowe had a straightforward message about Seattle’s prospects.
“This is not a team that gives up,” said the veteran of nearly 300 MLS matches. “I think that has been throughout the legacy of this team and you're not going to see it now."
Rowe and his teammates recognize how precious every opportunity will be.
“This team and this organization has found a way through every single time,” Rowe said. “None of us want to be on that first team that doesn't [make playoffs], so we're making sure we'll put everything forward.
“Like I said, we want to get on that run towards the end of the year, which obviously is creeping up on us. We want to make sure we're finding our stride. We have to correct a few things in our backline, in the midfield and put the goals away.”