On the surface, the Sounders FC’s future is pretty cut and dry. They have already qualified for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League and clinched a spot in the Western Conference semifinals with either the two or three seed.
It may seem like the final week is just a formality, but the Sounders still feel like they have a lot to play for in the final week of the 2012 regular season.
“They don’t get us into the playoffs and into the next round in CONCACAF, but they are games that are important in terms of seeding and placement,” said Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid.
Starting with Wednesday’s match against Marathon at CenturyLink Field, the Sounders are playing for seeding in the quarterfinal round of the Champions League. A win will assure them of one of the top four spots, as three other teams have also won each of their first three group stage matches - Santos Laguna in Group 1, Herediano in Group 2 and Monterrey in Group 7.
However, only Seattle, Monterrey and the LA Galaxy have clinched spots in the quarterfinals, so games this week are meaningful throughout the CCL schedule. While teams throughout the Champions League are difficult opponents, a higher seed could ease Seattle’s path out of the quarterfinals.
“There are some guys you’d like to avoid and that makes the game important from that aspect,” Schmid said.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Sounders will meet the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. It’s an LA team that Seattle has topped quite convincingly in their previous two meetings with a 2-0 win on May 2 and a 4-0 thrashing on August 5, both matches at CenturyLink Field.
Real Salt Lake, who is even with Seattle on 56 points, hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. A win or draw for RSL would force Seattle to need a positive result against LA to take the higher seed – a win in the case of a Salt Lake win and a win or draw if RSL draws.
Moving into the second seed will not only give the Sounders home-field advantage in the home-and-away, aggregate-goal series, but would also improve their chances of hosting the MLS Cup final, if they get that far.
“Second place is always better, but the other reason 59 points is important is because when you compare that point total with some of the point totals in the East and who comes out of there, if we go far in the playoffs it could affect where MLS Cup gets played,” Schmid said.
In the East, only Sporting Kansas City has exceeded the 59-point threshold, and only one of DC United and the Chicago Fire can reach it, as they face each other in their final match of the season on Saturday.
The team with the highest point total playing in the MLS Cup final is slated to host the championship match.
With the two highly important matches preceding what is sure to be a difficult playoff meeting with Real Salt Lake, Schmid will also be looking to his bench in the next two matches. That is nothing new to the Sounders, who have used 30 different lineups in their 33 MLS matches. Additionally, the Sounders have gone deep into their roster for their five previous Champions League matches and the five matches they played in reaching the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final.
“We have quite a few people that can bring that quality off the bench and they’re able to step on the field and maintain that level of play for us and they have a good understanding of what the guy next to them is going to bring,” Schmid said. “We want to make sure our players are healthy going into the playoffs. That’s the most important thing.”
Kickoff for Wednesday’s Champions League match is scheduled for 7 pm Pacific with television coverage on Fox Soccer, while Sunday’s regular season finale will kick off at 6 pm from the Home Depot Center with ESPN carrying the game nationally.