Sounders enter rare air with fourth straight postseason

Seattle joins Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy as the only teams to qualify for the playoffs every year since 2009.

Sounders FC is in elite company in its four years in Major League Soccer.

The Seattle side already became the first MLS club to win three straight US Open Cup titles and reached the final a fourth year.  In league play, the draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday clinched a fourth consecutive playoff berth, as the team joins Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy as the only teams to qualify for the playoffs every year since 2009. The Columbus Crew also qualified for the playoffs in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but have not yet qualified this year and are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference with just three matches left to play.

“It’s tremendous if you look at what all the other teams are doing, especially the expansion teams.  There has been a lot of expansion since we’ve come in and I think our record stands alone,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “It’s a tribute to the organization all the way down.  We’ve got a lot of stability and as a result of that there’s a consistency and a belief that we’ve been able to instill in our club.”

When the Sounders reached the playoffs in 2009, they were the first MLS expansion club to do so since the 1998 Chicago Fire team that went on to win MLS Cup.  Since 2005 when Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA joined the league, MLS has expanded from 10 clubs to 19.  Both Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA missed the playoffs in their inaugural season, but Chivas then went on a run of four straight postseason appearances from 2006-2009.

Salt Lake didn’t reach the playoffs until 2008 and have not missed them since.

Toronto joined the league in 2007 and have yet to see a postseason match.  San Jose joined in 2008 and are making just their second appearance in the playoffs this year.  The Philadelphia Union made the playoffs in one of their three seasons.

Success this early in a franchise’s history is a rarity, but the Sounders are an ambitious club and simply reaching the postseason doesn’t mean their mission is accomplished for 2012.

“We’ve still got big goals this year,” Schmid said.  “The number one goal was to make it back to the playoffs, now we can talk about the other goals from there.”

After the match at BC Place on Saturday, the Seattle locker room was starkly contrasted to the locker room in Kansas City in 2009 when the Sounders celebrated clinching their first ever playoff spot.

Though happy with the playoff berth, the Sounders were not content to just have their postseason ticket punched and their focus quickly turned to next Sunday’s meeting with the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field.

“We know we are in the playoffs with that point, but it’s not enough.  We came here for the three points,” said midfielder and captain Mauro Rosales.  “We hope the next game we can win at home against Portland for our fans.”

The Sounders have lost just twice in the last June 24, but went just 1-1-3 in their five matches in September.  A victory over Portland would not only go a long way toward building momentum toward the playoffs, but would also boost the Sounders to one point ahead of the Timbers in the Cascadia Cup standings and would keep them in the hunt for the number two spot in the Western Conference, which would mean home field advantage in the Western Conference semifinals.

The importance of the match is near to the minds of the players in the locker room.

“We have to win.  No excuses.  We all know this,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said.  “The whole week we’ll be focused on the game on Sunday.”

The Sounders will take Sunday and Monday off this week before returning to training on Tuesday.  The match on Sunday will be televised live on ESPN, with kickoff scheduled for 6 pm Pacific Time.

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