Ready or not, the MLS Cup playoffs are here and the Sounders FC will take on Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals for the second consecutive year after an up-and-down year.
The Sounders FC regular season can be split into three distinct sections. They were the top team in Major League Soccer through the first nine games, then stumbled over the next nine, going winless for the longest stretch in club history. Then over the final 16 matches they went 8-3-5 to finish third in the West and seventh overall.
Although they would prefer to have finished the season with a better result than their 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy on Sunday at the Home Depot Center, they don’t lack confidence heading into their fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
“I think we are ready for the playoffs, tonight has to be a good motivator,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Sometimes when you get slapped a little bit towards the end of the season it can be a good thing because it reminds you of how that feels and it is a feeling that you don’t want to have come back.”
Another feeling the Sounders don’t want to have come back is the agony of falling in the first round of the playoffs.
In 2009, they fell on an overtime goal in the second leg of an otherwise scoreless series with the Houston Dynamo. In 2010, they lost 3-1 to the LA Galaxy. Then last year, they fell behind 3-0 to Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the series. Seattle battled back with two goals in the second leg, but couldn’t find the equalizer.
The hope is that playing at home first against RSL will give the Sounders the opportunity to get off to a better start than they did in 2011.
"Obviously we need to win at home and we need to get something on the road,” Schmid said. “We are at home first. Last year it was the opposite, so we need to do the same kind of job that they did on us last year.”
While the Sounders have been one of the top second half teams in the league, they played most of the second half of Sunday’s season finale without top scorer Eddie Johnson and their most consistent defender Jeff Parke. Johnson’s hamstring tightened up on him just before halftime and Parke experienced some tightness as well and both were taken out as precautions.
They do expect to get defenders Patrick Ianni and Leo Gonzalez back this week, while Salt Lake is dealing with injury issues of their own with defenders Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler both missing time of late and Nat Borchers also resting during their regular season finale against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
“We are going to put out 11 players, they will put out 11 players and they will decide it on the field,” Schmid said.
The Sounders have had a historic season, with Johnson setting a new franchise scoring record with 14 goals, Mauro Rosales setting a new assist record with 13 assists and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning became the first player from outside of CONCACAF to lead the team in goalkeeping, posting a 0.73 goals against average for the third-best mark in MLS history.
Additionally, Fredy Montero had his best MLS season with 13 goals and eight assists. Osvaldo Alonso has continued to make progress as one of the top defensive midfielders in the league. Brad Evans had a late-season resurgence with the addition of Christian Tiffert to the midfield and the bench has proven productive with Steve Zakuani, Mario Martinez, Sammy Ochoa and David Estrada all waiting in the wings.
“I think this team definitely has what it takes to make a run at the championship,” Schmid said. “There is enough quality on the field, enough quality on our bench, and the desire is definitely there.”
Tickets for Seattle's home match go on sale to the public on Monday, October 29 at 9 am Pacific by visiting www.SoundersFC.com or by calling 800-745-3000.