Sounders savoring bye as they fight back to full squad strength

Seattle Sounders celebrate win vs. Colorado Rapids, Oct. 22, 2017

SEATTLE – Hampered by a score of injuries going into the 2017 Audi MLS Cup playoffs, the Seattle Sounders needed a top-two seed in the Western Conference and the first-round bye that comes with it as much as anybody.

They have it following Sunday’s 3-0 blowout of the Colorado Rapids at CenturyLink Field, on Decision Day presented by AT&T, that officially locked them into that two spot. It landed them just behind their Cascadia Cup rival Portland Timbers.

That means the defending MLS Cup champions won’t have to play again until the Western Conference semifinals kick off on either Oct. 28 or 29, allowing them to avoid the notoriously anything-goes world of the Knockout Round, and affording them a couple of extra days to try and get back to full strength.

“It’s massive,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters after the match. “We need all the help we can get. My mantra has been, ‘Next guy step up,’ so we would have dealt with it however this game would have ended up, however the table would have ended up. We would have gone through and done our normal routine.

“That’s a pretty tough group, a pretty resilient group. So, yes, it’s great to have those couple extra days.”

The list of star players the Sounders need to get healthy before they kick off the West semis is a lengthy one.

Team captain Osvaldo Alonso hasn’t played since he strained his quad in Seattle’s 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sept. 27. Second-year forward Jordan Morris has been out even longer than that, having last featured in Seattle’s 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy on Sept. 11.

Recently acquired midfielder Victor Rodriguez also missed Sunday’s match against Colorado with a quad injury, while midfielder Cristian Roldan has been playing through a broken arm and center back Roman Torres has been doing so through knee inflammation.

Sounders forward Will Bruin said that the bye also should offer his team peace of mind, with the knowledge that their season now can’t end in a one-game playoff.

“It’s huge,” Bruin said. “MLS, there’s so much parity, any given day anybody can beat anybody. So, as long as you get to avoid that one-off match that could end your season, it’s always a good feeling.”

All told, Schmetzer said he was pleased with the top-two finish, especially considering that the Sounders got off to a relatively slow start this season coming off last year’s mentally and physically exhausting MLS Cup run.

Now, Schmetzer said, the Sounders’ sights are set squarely on preparing for a run at a repeat.

“I think there’s a sense of pride in the fact that they came in second through a lot of adversity,” Schmetzer said. “The mood in [the locker room] right now, it was, ‘Yes, we’re going to enjoy this moment.’ But I don’t know if there was much of a moment of [relief]. I think they’re already looking forward to the next game."