Sounders feeling right at home in playoff spot

Winners of four of their last five, the Sounders find themselves in very familiar territory in the Western Conference standings.

At long last, Sounders FC has returned to a position in the Western Conference standings that it is much more accustomed to playing from – a top five playoff spot.

After winning four of its last five matches, Seattle has moved into the fifth position in the West at 11-8-4.

“It’s always more rewarding to see yourselves among the top five,” Head Coach Sigi Schmid said.

Seattle has been out of that top five all season after a slow start in MLS play that saw it go winless through the first five matches. Seattle has had its hot and cold stretches since then though, reeling off unbeaten streaks of six matches in April and May and four in July and August.

However, it took a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday to elevate Sounders FC into the playoff hunt. Now, Seattle finds itself within three points of second place in the West and just eight points behind league-leading Real Salt Lake with four games in hand.

“If we would have lost that game, the feeling in camp would have been different – it would have been a little bit more desperation,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “It’s just so close. It’s tough to find that even position where the highs aren’t too high and the lows aren’t too low. If we win the next two, we put ourselves in Supporters’ Shield contention.”

In the current stretch that has seen Seattle get points in five of the last six matches, the Sounders have had seven different players score goals with four of those players also adding assists.

Forward Eddie Johnson has scored in two of the last three matches, including the match-winner against Portland. He said on Wednesday that there is always pressure to succeed, but that pressure is amplified in Seattle, where 67,385 were in attendance on Sunday to bring the season average to 42,963 at CenturyLink Field. As in the past, though, the Sounders are responding to that pressure in 2013.

“The best thing about being in a big environment like Seattle is that there is always pressure,” Johnson said. “I think pressure, for the elite athletes, makes you rise to the expectations of the organization and the fans. Without pressure and a little adversity, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”

What has helped in recent weeks has been the club’s health, as it has been nearing full strength, though still played on Sunday without Obafemi Martins and Steve Zakuani. If Schmid is able to call on his full arsenal of players, an already explosive attack could become very difficult to defend.

“This organization wants to win MLS Cup and we’re getting all the right players that we need to make that happen,” Johnson said. “For us, right now, the most important thing is staying healthy. We’ve had a lot of nicks and knocks throughout the season and we haven’t had all of our players yet, but we’re right where we want to be.”

While fifth place is not the end-goal for Seattle, it is on the right track, particularly when points-per-game are taken into account. Only two teams – the Montreal Impact at 1.71 and Real Salt Lake at 1.67 – average more than the 1.61 turned in by Sounders FC.

Maintaining that pace will be no easy task, but six of Seattle’s final 11 matches are at home.

“If we can keep our points-per-game average where it’s at, then we’ll be OK,” said Schmid. “But we still have some tough games. We want to continue to get the points and stay in that grouping.”

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