TUKWILA, Wash. — The pressure of simply making the playoffs may have been relieved, but that doesn’t mean the Seattle Sounders are suddenly playing with unburdened minds.
They've have lost four straight and are winless in six in a row, essentially backing into the playoffs and only punching their ticket after the LA Galaxy tied the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday.
That prompted a somewhat out-of-character opening remark from Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid following Tuesday’s training session.
“I wanted to apologize for not winning five in a row to make the playoffs,” he told reporters before a question had even been asked. “I know that’s only considered a playoff team if you win five in a row. But I’d rather be in the playoffs than in San Jose’s shoes where they win a lot of games at the end and they don’t make the playoffs.
“To make the playoffs, you have to get some points in the season and we got our points in the middle of the season. We didn’t start off well early and we haven’t so far finished well. But at the end of the day we have enough points to get into the playoffs.”
Fair or not, making the playoffs is not particularly noteworthy for the Sounders. They have now qualified for the postseason every year of their MLS existence, making them one of only three teams to make the playoffs in each of the past five years.
“For us, it’s a minimum standard,” Sounders general manager and part owner Adrian Hanauer said about making the playoffs. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been a successful season. It means it hasn’t been a failure of a season. We want to win trophies and you don’t get a trophy for making the playoffs.”
The Sounders entered this season with the express goal of winning the MLS Cup. Despite their recent struggles, that goal is still very much alive.
And it’s one that isn’t particularly affected by how well a team is playing heading into the postseason. Last season, for instance, a No. 4 and No. 5 seed played in the MLS Cup final. The Supporters’ Shield winner has gone on to win the MLS Cup in just eight of 17 seasons.
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“It’s a cup competition, so if you hit a series of good games you’re going to advance,” Schmid said. “It’s important for us to do what we need to do. If we play the same way that we played in the last four games, it’s going to be difficult for us. My assumption is that’s not how we’re going to play.”
There’s also some hope that these recent struggles can ultimately be a positive.
“It was kinda boring when we were winning all those games,” goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann joked. “We have to create some drama. That’s what’s great about sports and life in general. There’s ups and downs and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Hopefully we become stronger as a team, as a unit and as individuals.”