TUKWILA, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders’ streak of qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs for eight consecutive seasons can be viewed through a couple of different lenses.
On one hand, it represents a run of regular-season consistency that no other MLS franchise can match aside from the LA Galaxy – a team that happens to be the league’s preeminent juggernaut. But unlike the Galaxy, none of Seattle’s previous seven playoff appearances have ended with an ever-elusive MLS Cup.
That leaves Sounders interim head coach Brian Schmezter with the task of convincing his players that this team is different – that those past playoff disappointments are all irrelevant. It's a message that he says his team has already received at the tail end of an adversity-riddled 2016 campaign.
“We’ve been one game at a time, must-win games for 14 games now,” Schmetzer told reporters following Seattle’s Wednesday training session. “I mean, we’ve had to win almost every single game. That mentality is engrained in this group. It’s not going to change.”
This season, the Sounders know that they’ll have to best a tough Knockout Round opponent if they plan on bucking that historical trend.
Seattle meet Sporting Kansas City in their playoff opener at CenturyLink Field on Thursday, a matchup that has been known to come down to late-game theatrics. SKC also have a reputation for playing a physical, bruising brand of soccer, something that Schmetzer also said he thinks team will be prepared for given its recent competition.
“We just have to get the ball off our feet quicker,” Schmetzer said. “If you hold onto the ball for too long, that gives them a chance to play physical with you. We just played a physical team [Real Salt Lake]. We understand this is the playoffs. The last game against RSL wasn’t always the smoothest soccer game. I think the team is ready for that.”
Thursday’s match also gives the Sounders a chance to avenge their regular-season matchups against SKC, both of which ended in defeat.
Sporting topped Seattle 1-0 in the 2016 season-opener at CenturyLink, followed by a 3-0 shellacking at a sweltering Children’s Mercy Park on July 24 that was closely followed by the departure of longtime Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid just days later.
“I remember it was like 150 degrees,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “I don’t really look at that game and say that this is an opportunity for payback. It’s the playoffs. This is its own beast.
“They’re going to be a good test. They’re a really good side. They fight to the end, I’m expecting it to be very physical. Regardless of what the score is, what the time is, they’re never going to quit. We have to be ready for that.”