Seattle Sounders can turn page on season of turmoil with playoff berth

TUKWILA, Wash.—At this point, the 2016 Seattle Sounders have virtually seen it all:

  • Star striker Obafemi Martins unexpectedly bolted to the Chinese Super League in February.
  • They lost 12 out of their first 20 matches and subsequently parted ways with longtime head coach Sigi Schmid, who was replaced by interim boss Brian Schmetzer in July.
  • A medical issue sidelined Clint Dempsey, who underwent a procedure to address an irregular heartbeat in August and now faces an uncertain career path going forward.

And yet, following the acquisition of midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and a torrid run of form that includes just two losses in 13 matches, the Sounders find themselves on the precipice of clinching an eighth-straight trip to the Audi 2016 MLS Cup playoffs – a feat they could guarantee with a victory in their Decision Day matchup with Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on Sunday (4pm ET, ESPN | MLS LIVE in Canada).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a pretty significant hole,” said defender Zach Scott, after Seattle’s practice on Friday. “The fact that we’re going into the final weekend with a shot here to get into the playoffs – which seemed far-fetched a couple months ago – it’s fantastic.”

Sunday’s match against RSL could have wide-ranging implications for the Sounders on multiple fronts.

A victory and postseason appearance, for instance, could bolster Schmetzer’s case for the permanent coaching position. Roster spots for next season and beyond might also be on the (red) line.

As his team goes through its practice week ahead of the Sunday’s fixture, Schmetzer said his goal is to find a way to get his players to make all that a secondary concern for the time being.

“Getting their mentality right, which hasn’t been the most difficult thing with this group, is going to be key,” Schmetzer said. “You don’t want them to feel too much pressure. They have to understand the potential outcomes.

“But at the end of the day, they have to feel confident and feel like they’re in a good spot, they’re physically ready to go and just get them right mentally.”

If the Sounders do fall to RSL on Sunday, it doesn’t necessarily end their playoff hopes. Seattle would still clinch a postseason berth even with a loss, provided either the Portland Timbers or Sporting Kansas City lose or draw.

Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, however, said this week that his side is focused on making sure its fate won’t have to depend on any outside forces.

“We need to worry about ourselves,” Frei said. “It’s probably good for TV and for ratings, but we’ve done well to take of ourselves and get ourselves into a position where can make the playoffs. That’s what we need to do.”