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Originally published October 18, 2013 at 5:14 PM | Page modified October 18, 2013 at 10:16 PM

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Sounders still in search of an elusive playoff berth

In the morning of Oct. 5, the Sounders were effectively the top team in MLS. Just two weeks later, they have plummeted all the way to fourth place in the Western Conference.


Seattle Times staff reporter

SATURDAY

Sounders FC @ FC Dallas, 11:30 a.m., Ch. 5

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In the morning of Oct. 5, the Sounders were effectively the top team in MLS. Just two weeks later, they have plummeted all the way to fourth place in the Western Conference.

Crazier still in a parity-stricken league, if results go right for Seattle, it could be back leading the West after the weekend.

That, though, would require a win on the road Saturday against FC Dallas, and road wins haven’t come easily of late. The Sounders have lost their last three games, matching the worst drought in team history, and have gone winless in their last five.

Consider the urgency rising heading into the penultimate game of the regular season.

“This is what it’s like to be a part of the biggest franchise in the league,” said forward Eddie Johnson. “There is pressure, there are expectations, but at the end of the day, we’re two points away from first place.”

Two points out of first, but still without a playoff berth in hand. Seattle has failed in its last four attempts to secure a place in the postseason field, and here is how that can be resolved this weekend:

• Sounders win in Dallas.

• Colorado loses to Vancouver.

• San Jose loses or ties against Los Angeles.

• Sounders tie and Colorado ties.

So while technically Saturday is not a must-win game, one potentially looms in the regular-season finale with another poor performance.

Seattle has never gone this deep into the year without a playoff berth assured.

“It’s frustrating, because you want to be in good form heading into the postseason, which we’re trying to get into first of all,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani. “You never want to lose games. Then you never want to lose three games in a row.

“But we’re still the team that won all those games in a row. We’re still the same team that’s been in the postseason every year so far. It’s still that same team, still the same players. We don’t question the quality we have, but right now it hasn’t been executed. The only way out of this is to stay together.”

The Sounders still have a number of questions going into Dallas, one of four venues leaguewide where they have never lost (3-0-2).

Coach Sigi Schmid declined to reveal his starting goalkeeper before the team departed Thursday, though indications have been that Michael Gspurning could reclaim the job from Marcus Hahnemann after being benched Sunday.

Schmid also played it coy regarding the availability and roles of a star-studded forward trio. Clint Dempsey sprained his shoulder against the Timbers but was able to play through it. Johnson and Obafemi Martins are recovering from groin injuries.

Dallas has questions, as well, after being eliminated from playoff contention last week amid a dreadful 2-9-8 run.

One was answered Friday as coach Schellas Hyndman announced he will step down at the end of the season. But amid FCD’s disappointment, Schmid said he’s expecting an opponent that will “definitely come out looser, a little more relaxed and also full of fight.

“When a team doesn’t make the playoffs, players know that there’s going to be changes probably coming down the line, so everybody is motivated to go out there and play,” Schmid added. “It doesn’t make the game any easier.”

Notes

Osvaldo Alonso is suspended for the game after receiving a red card Sunday in Portland. Fellow midfielder Brad Evans rejoined the team in Dallas following duty with the U.S. national team.

More than 64,000 tickets have been sold for Sounders FC’s regular-season finale, an Oct. 27 home game against the Los Angeles Galaxy. That ensures Seattle will set another MLS record for average attendance, which the franchise has done in each of its five seasons.

The league confirmed playoff dates for the upcoming postseason: knockout games (Oct. 30-31), conference semifinals (Nov. 2-3, 6-7), conference finals (Nov. 9-10, 23-24) and MLS Cup (Dec. 7). The break between legs in the conference finals is to accommodate the FIFA window for international games.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @joshuamayers



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