Stretch run to provide challenges for Sounders

The final set of matches in the regular season will show what Sigi Schmid's squad is made of.

Sounders FC vs. New York Red Bulls September 29, 2013, 6 pm PT; CenturyLink Field TV/Radio: ESPN; 97.3 FM

The Major League Soccer season has reached the final stretch run as teams jockey for playoff spots and positioning in the table.

This year is different than most though, as 16 of the 19 MLS teams are still in contention for the postseason and many of them still entertain hopes of hoisting the Supporters’ Shield at season’s end. Sounders FC is chief among those, touting the top record in the Western Conference and trailing only the New York Red Bulls in the MLS standings.

“In the past, the parity hasn’t been as much as it is now, as close as everybody is,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “When you’re at the top of the table, that mentality in each game becomes even more important when you’re chasing that Supporters’ Shield.”

Evans would know, too. He was right in the thick of it with the Columbus Crew in 2008, who went 3-1-2 over the final six matches to win the trophy for the best regular season record in MLS.

With Seattle’s current standing at 15-8-5 and six matches remaining, the Sounders have the greatest chance to earn the Supporters’ Shield. Historically, Seattle has done well in the final six matches, averaging 12.75 points in that stretch over the last four seasons. To win the trophy this year, the club will need some help from the rest of the league given how tight the race currently is.

The Sounders can do themselves some favors starting on Sunday against the Red Bulls. The rest of the season schedule also features some tantalizing matchups, though, as the playoffs draw nearer.

After New York, Seattle goes on the road to face the Colorado Rapids (12-9-9, 5th in the West); returns home to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC (11-10-8, 6th in the West); plays road matches against the Timbers (11-5-13, 3rd in the West) and FC Dallas (10-9-10, 8th in the West); then finishes at home against the Galaxy (13-10-6, 4th in the West).

“It’s the time of the year that everybody is looking to be in the playoffs. From now until the end of the season, we’re going to have very difficult games. We just have to be in the same mentality and the same rhythm that we’re in now, just trying to win every game,” Seattle captain Mauro Rosales said. “It doesn’t matter who is in front of us. We just need to do our work and that will put us in the playoff and in a good race for the Supporters’ Shield.”

Seattle will look to maintain the momentum that has carried it to the top of the West, going 8-1-2 in its last 11 matches.

That has meant a renewed focus on both sides of the ball and a newfound cohesion that has helped Seattle outscore its opponents 17-8 with five shutouts since July 20.

“We have enough talent and enough fire power up front that we’re going to find a goal up front that we’re going to find a goal somewhere. So if we can play good defense on the other end of the field, we’re going to be in games,” Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “That’s the thing we’ve talked about and we’ve been able to do that.”

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