Sounders try to improve playoff seeding
Sunday isn’t a must-win for the Sounders anymore, but beating the Galaxy would allow Seattle to skip the play-in round and advance directly to the conference semifinals.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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TUKWILA – Style points don’t matter when it comes to clinching a playoff berth.
Not to the Sounders, at least, who stumbled into qualification over the weekend amid a four-game losing streak — thanks, in part, to help from the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Consider a fair amount of pressure and stress relieved as Seattle returned to practice Tuesday without the potential of a must-win game in Sunday’s regular-season finale.
“We’re in,” said goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. “Once you’re in, you’re in. Nothing else matters.”
Coach Sigi Schmid was a bit more defensive to the idea that his team backed into the postseason field. He didn’t even wait to be asked a question before firing an impassioned statement that didn’t skimp on sarcasm.
“I want to apologize that we didn’t win five in a row at the end of the season to make the playoffs,” Schmid said. “I know (you are) only considered a playoff team if you win five in a row, but I’d rather be in the playoffs than be 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 points at some point in the season. We got our points in the middle of the season. We didn’t start off well early, we haven’t, so far, finished well, but at the end of the day, we got enough points to get into the playoffs.”
General manager Adrian Hanauer noted there was no celebration once the berth was clinched, a reaction consistent with seasons past. Qualifying for the playoffs has become a baseline expectation for a franchise that has done so in each of its five years in MLS — tied for the second-longest active streak in the league behind Real Salt Lake’s six years.
That accomplishment, Schmid said, is easy to overlook.
Hanauer noted that while a playoff berth means the season hasn’t been a failure, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has quite been a success.
“We want to win trophies,” he said, “and you don’t get a trophy for making the playoffs.”
There is still much to be determined in the final weekend of the season, even with the five teams in the Western Conference playoff field all but set.
The Sounders can actually finish anywhere from the No. 1 seed to No. 5, but they will most likely finish in the bottom three. There is a big difference there, however, as the bottom two teams face a one-game play-in round on either Oct. 30 or 31, and the No. 3 seed advances directly to the conference semifinals.
Seattle would be guaranteed a top-three finish with a win against the Galaxy at home Sunday but would be relegated to the play-in game with a tie or loss.
So how important is that heading into Sunday?
“To avoid the play-in game would be nice,” Schmid said, “but ... last year the two teams that played for MLS Cup both played in the play-in game.”
More evidence to why it’s just about getting into the playoffs, impressively or not.
• Clint Dempsey could be in line for an offseason loan, perhaps to a team in the English Premier League, to stay in action in the buildup to next summer’s World Cup in Brazil, but Hanauer said no decision will be made until the season is over.
• Schmid said each week brings a new decision regarding the team’s starting goalkeeper. Hahnemann has played the past two games in place of Michael Gspurning, but a starter for Sunday wasn’t announced.
• Eddie Johnson (groin), Obafemi Martins (groin) and Djimi Traore (knee) have shown improvement in their recoveries, according to Schmid, but it is uncertain if they’ll play against the Galaxy. Schmid said the Sounders won’t rush anyone back because a playoff berth is secure, and some players, like defender Leo Gonzalez, could be rested.
• Orlando, Fla., is set to become the next city awarded an MLS expansion franchise after city and county funding has been approved for a new stadium. The ownership group working the league operates Orlando City SC, a well-supported team in the third-tier USL PRO.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.