Sounders confident they can "pull off" playoff entry, but aiming far higher

TUKWILA, Wash. – This Sunday’s MLS Decision Day home matchup against Real Salt Lake (4 pm ET; ESPN in US, MLS LIVE in Canada) has an air of familiarity to it for the Seattle Sounders.

The match will mark the second straight year the Sounders will play host to RSL in a regular-season finale at CenturyLink Field with their postseason hopes on the line, with last year’s contest ending in a 3-1 victory. This year’s repeat clash is similarly high-stakes, as a Seattle win would again guarantee them a spot in the 2016 Audi MLS Cup playoffs.

Any result other than a victory, however, would make things decidedly dicier.

“This has been such a long season with ups and downs,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei told reporters following Seattle’s Tuesday practice at Starfire Sports Complex. “It sucks that it comes down to the wire, but I’m confident that we can pull it off.

“We have enough quality, enough veterans and we’ll have the support at home. I’m confident that we can get a result and then get into the playoffs and reward ourselves for the hard work we’ve put in.”

That the Sounders even control their own playoff destiny on the season’s final day is somewhat remarkable considering how their season started.

Seattle began their 2016 campaign 6-12-2, a brutal run of form that ended with the departure of the only head coach the MLS iteration of the franchise had ever known in Sigi Schmid, and made their prospects of clinching an eighth-consecutive postseason appearance seem like a distant possibility.

“We’ve done well to make sure we can take of our own business and get ourselves into the playoffs,” Frei said. “That’s what we need to do. … We’ve got to get in and then who knows? But I think our confidence has grown in the last few months and that can be a vital thing going into the playoffs.”

Even with a dramatic reversal of fortune squarely within his team’s grasp ahead of Sunday’s match, Sounders interim head coach Brian Schmetzer said on Tuesday that he wouldn’t consider clinching a playoff spot the culmination of Seattle’s turnaround.

“I would consider [the season] a failure if we don’t win the MLS Cup,” Schmetzer said. “Not making the playoffs would be part of that. This club has always been a winning club. That winning tradition holds true so, yes, we would be disappointed [to miss the playoffs].

“There’s been a lot of adversity and people can make excuses, but we choose not to. We want to win. … Would I deem the season a success if we make it to the playoffs? In some ways, sure. But that’s not our ultimate goal by any stretch of the imagination. Not at all.”