Cascadia clash with playoff implications looms for Seattle Sounders

TUKWILA, Wash. — So much has changed since the Seattle Sounders last played the Vancouver Whitecaps to a 2-1 loss in Seattle on March 19.

Sigi Schmid was still the head coach. Nicolas Lodeiro was still playing for Boca Juniors. And the loss was the Sounders’ third straight to start the season, a stretch that eventually culminated in just 20 points from their first 20 matches.

Now, in the six weeks since interim head coach Brian Schmetzer took over and the club signed Lodeiro as a Designated Player, Seattle has lost just once in the last seven matches. They’re six points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot with seven matches remaining.

A Cascadia rivalry match always carries special meaning to the players and coaching staff, but when the playoffs are on the line - Vancouver sits two points ahead of Seattle, though the Sounders have two matches in hand - the stakes intensify.

“[Cascadia matches] are always about bragging rights,” said Schmetzer. “Playoffs are No. 1, but a millimeter underneath that is [matches against] Vancouver and Portland. It’s all I should have to say.”

The Sounders will enter Saturday’s match (1 p.m. PT; JOEtv, Univision-Seattle, ROOT Sports (outside Seattle), KIRO 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360AM) on the heels of a 1-1 draw in San Jose last week, a result secured on a goal via a late Lodeiro free kick.

But while road points at this stage in the season are valuable, the Sounders are simply running out of time to come up with anything less than wins.

“There’s so many positives with our team, but at the end of the day we have to get results,” Schmetzer said. “We still need to figure out how to manufacture three-point games.”

One of the biggest issues facing the team in its match against the Earthquakes was a depleted lineup. Captain Brad Evans was a late scratch and did not travel after suffering lower back pain, midfielder Cristain Roldan was nursing a sore ankle and Joevin Jones left the match with an injury to his foot.

All three are expected to be fully fit to play this weekend, though, a welcoming luxury for Schmetzer and the coaching staff.

With a mostly full first-choice team available - Clint Dempsey's status is still unclear - the Sounders can focus on the task at hand, most notably staying organized and finding a way to secure a crucial three points.

“All our focus will be on generating chances, defending well and making sure we manage the game because it is a derby match with a lot on the line, “Schmetzer said.

Said center back Chad Marshall: “I thought overall it was good in San Jose going into an away game with a team that has a good offense and can score goals. It’s about limiting those mistakes.”

As the team realized Saturday, those mistakes cost results. And with just six weeks left in the regular season, there’s no room for error.

Expect this Saturday’s match, a winnable home fixture against a rival, to be as good a barometer as any to find out if the playoff hunt is truly on.



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