It’s make-or-break time for the Seattle Sounders with the club getting set for the final five matches of the 2022 regular season.
Coming off a 2-1 home victory over Houston Dynamo FC at Lumen Field in Week 29, Seattle are six points shy of the playoff line in the Western Conference, meaning every match is critical for their hopes of making a run back into the postseason mix. It starts back at Lumen on Saturday, with a matchup against an Austin FC side (5:08 p.m. PT; FOX 13+, Univision Seattle, Prime Video, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS) that has been one of the best teams in MLS all season.
Every game from now is kind of like a final for us,” Sounders forward Jordan Morris said this week. “We really need to keep stringing wins together to get ourselves back above the line.
“They’re a really good team, well-coached, have a lot of good players. So they’re going to be dangerous. We’re going to have to come out and play well, especially at home, we want to really take advantage of being at home and being dominant back at home again.”
Head Coach Brian Schmetzer agreed that every match has to be treated with the importance of a do-or-die game, but cautioned that it’s also critical for the players and staff to not catch themselves looking too far ahead, with such a thin margin for error.
“My cautionary tale is that you can’t look ahead to the other four games, you’ve got to focus on this one,” said Schmetzer. “Every game is critical, every game at home is critical - you’ve got to win your home games. You’ve got to get something on the road. You’ve got the Cincy game where might be some internationals missing. I mean, there’s a lot of storylines within the last five games. Yes, they’re all five finals, but let’s just start focused on this first final against Austin.”
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It won’t be easy against a high-flying Austin side that has scored 60 goals this season and boasts one of the league’s most dynamic attackers in MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi.
Seattle have battled the Texas side successfully before, memorably taking a 1-0 victory at Q2 Stadium last season that saw the Sounders win while fielding a starting XI that included a league-record five players that were aged 19 or younger. Earlier this season, the Sounders also grinded out a 1-1 draw at Q2 while balancing their league schedule with their ultimately victorious Concacaf Champions League run.
While Austin have experienced a slight downturn in form in their last two games, Schmetzer said he’s expecting an opponent that will be plenty motivated to avenge those past results and re-stake their claim as a Western Conference frontrunner.
“Josh [Wolff] has come and done a really great job of figuring how his squad,” said Schmetzer. “Last year he went through some trials and tribulations. I’m sure he would like to stick it to us because we went down there with five teenagers and that was a big storyline. I could tell, he was a proud guy and didn’t like losing at home.
“So, there’s motivation, he’s a good coach, he’s tactically got his team playing the way he wants them to. He’s got good players, so it’s a good team.”
Despite Seattle’s own recent difficulties in league play, Morris said that their last victory against Houston can hopefully act as the springboard the club needs to kickstart a late-season surge back above the line.
Last week’s victory was a cathartic one, snapping a five-game winless run and sending the Lumen Field crowd into euphoria when long-time fan-favorite defender Nouhou finally scored his first MLS goal, and delivered the game-winning assist to Fredy Montero.
“It was huge,” said Morris. “I think especially the response going down 1-0, obviously things haven’t been going our way, so to come back and get a result, especially at home where we want to be dominant, and we knew the implications heading into the game - that we needed to get the three points to stay in the playoff picture. So it was really important.
“The mood’s definitely improved, but we have a lot of work still to do.”