Seattle Sounders vault into playoff field, "not resting on the laurels of CCL"

The mood around Seattle Sounders FC brightened slightly Tuesday night, courtesy of a 1-0 home win over FC Dallas that moved them up to sixth place in the Western Conference standings.

The result came via midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro’s 39th-minute penalty kick, putting their captain at 18-for-18 from the spot in regular season play. And while the performance perhaps wasn’t a glowing advertisement for the beautiful game, three points is all that’s on the Rave Green’s mind this time of year.

“Sometimes you just need to grind out results like this when you're going through a tough spell, and we just needed that one goal, fortunately,” said forward Jordan Morris, a World Cup hopeful with the US men’s national team.

Seattle entered the match after losing five of their past seven games (2W-5L-0D), an uncharacteristic dry stretch that’s fueled concerns of if an Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs-less fall awaits. That’s amid the backdrop of a club that’s made 13 straight postseason appearances, qualifying every year since their expansion season in 2009.

The Rave Green aren’t out of the woods yet, with 11 regular-season games remaining as the march toward Decision Day on Oct. 9 continues. But there’s some light poking through as Week 24 gets underway, with Wednesday night’s match between rival Portland Timbers (8th place) and Nashville SC (7th place) of particular importance given the Western Conference implications around them.

Yet, again, Seattle’s collective takeaway after the Dallas match was clear.

“The performance probably wasn't up to our standard,” said midfielder Albert Rusnak, “but at this point in the season and with a good amount of losses in the last few games that we played, it was all about winning, getting three points and moving up in the table.”

Shaping all this is Seattle’s historic Concacaf Champions League title from May, becoming the first MLS club to win the regional competition’s modern-day version after beating Liga MX’s Pumas UNAM 5-2 on aggregate. That booked a FIFA Club World Cup spot, and when contrasted with the specter of a first-ever MLS playoff absence, unsettled feelings have lingered this summer in Cascadia.

Seattle prioritized that CCL conquest over MLS matches early on, creating an uphill climb in the table. But now level on 23 regular-season games like most others around them in the West standings (ahead on 32 points and 10 wins), it’s crunch time.

“I can’t say it any more simply: Those guys want to win,” said head coach Brian Schmetzer. “They are not resting on the laurels of CCL. They want to play well, they want to play better and see how far we can get.”

Ruidiaz returns

Seattle were boosted Tuesday night by star striker Raul Ruidiaz returning from a hamstring injury, logging a 25-minute substitute appearance in the second half. It was the Designated Player’s 10th league game of the year, a notable absence amid the Sounders’ up-and-down campaign, especially when combined with midfielders Joao Paulo (ACL tear) and Obed Vargas (back stress fracture) both being out long-term.

Schmetzer said the key is getting Ruidiaz back “game fit, match fit, 90-minute fit” in the weeks ahead, all while avoiding further setbacks. The Peruvian international has led Seattle in goals the last four seasons.

Road ahead

Up next, Seattle return to play Saturday, heading to struggling Atlanta United (3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes) – a game that’s also part of Week 24. Then comes a brief pause for most players during festivities around the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target on Aug. 10 in Minnesota. Morris and Ruidiaz will represent the club there ahead of hosting Real Salt Lake on Aug. 14.

Above the playoff line for now, and holding themselves to a standard that’s plainly evident on Puget Sound, the Sounders may slowly be progressing forward.

“We have to regroup and we have to focus on the last 10, 11 games that we have in the season in order to push above the playoff line and end as high as we can so we can host a playoff game,” Rusnak said.

“But today was a good start to hopefully a winning run. We go to Atlanta on the road and we come back at home against Salt Lake, another team that's above us in the standings just like Dallas today. Every game is important at this stage of the season.”