Will Bruin

SEATTLE – The math was already stacked against Seattle Sounders FC going into Tuesday night's cross-conference matchup with FC Cincinnati at Lumen Field.

The task is even more daunting now after the eventful 1-1 draw, which saw the Sounders come back to equalize on a Fredy Montero golazo and seemingly have all the momentum, only to see Kelyn Rowe sent off for a DOGSO red card in the 69th minute. A 10-man game-winner never quite arrived, leaving Seattle on 40 points – five below the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs line in the Western Conference with two matches left.

"I felt like even with the red card we were pushing forward," midfielder Cristian Roldan, in his first appearance since undergoing groin surgery in August, said after the match. "We knew what was on the line. We felt like we wanted to leave everything on the field. I think that’s the attitude and messaging that we’ve had over the last 5-6 games. It’s crunch time. We’ve got to unfortunately live with the result because we ended up putting everything out there."

Break out the calculator

It might be a longshot, but Sounders forward Will Bruin said as long as there's a pulse, the reigning Concacaf Champions League winners aren't going to go down lightly.

Take six points from their final two matches and get some help with other results, and an improbable surge back into the mix is still at least theoretically possible. All Seattle can control, Bruin said, is winning each of those final two matches, first at Sporting Kansas City (Oct. 2), then at home against the San Jose Earthquakes on Decision Day (Oct. 9).

"I’ve been in MLS long enough that I know if you’re not mathematically eliminated, there’s still hope," Bruin said. "I was just looking: We’re five points out of the playoffs right now, six points for us to get in. That’s all of our focus, all we can control right now. Unfortunately we couldn’t maximize nine points out of these last three [games].

"All we know is it’s a mandatory six for the last two games, with some help."

Unfamiliar territory

It's a scenario few expected back in May when the Sounders topped Liga MX's Pumas UNAM to become the first-ever MLS club to win the modern incarnation of CCL, also riding a league-record streak of 13 straight years making the postseason that's squarely on the line heading into the final two matches.

That peak CCL form hasn't quite ever been consistently rediscovered in league play, with Tuesday's crucial match even more challenging due to 10 absences from departed internationals, several injuries and a yellow card suspension for captain Nicolas Lodeiro.

"It makes it tough, it makes it really tough," Bruin said. "But there is no ‘poor us, feel sorry for us.' This is the situation we put ourselves in. I think back to the three-game road trip not too long ago: Portland, LA and Orlando. Nine points right there, and we got one out of them. So, we did this to ourselves. This is the situation we’re in. It is what is.

"It’s literally do-or-die now."

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer echoed the sentiment.

"Determined," Schmetzer said. "The staff is just as committed to winning as the players. We feel the pit in your stomach because we didn’t come out with three points. But we’re going to continue to do our job, coach the guys up and, Kansas City, we’re going to go down there and try and get three points.

"We’re not out of it yet."

HIGHLIGHTS: Seattle Sounders FC vs. FC Cincinnati | September 27, 2022