Playoff, Cascadia implications

Sounders look to improve their playoff position, play catch-up in the Cascadia Cup standings, and maintain MLS-record streak of 61-straight matches without consecutive losses.

The Sounders FC find themselves at a point in the season that every game is of utmost importance as they grind toward the playoffs.

“Every day I hear, ‘Big game, big game.’  Every week is the same,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said.  “It’s all coming down to the end of the season and they are huge games.”

This Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, that importance is elevated by several factors.

The Sounders are coming off of a 2-1 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes last week and will be looking to maintain their MLS-record streak of 61 consecutive matches without consecutive losses.

Their loss dropped them to fourth in the Western Conference, one point behind the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake.  Getting to second place would mean home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

“If we want any chance of getting into that second slot like we talked about earlier in the year, then we have to win this weekend,” midfielder Brad Evans said.  “There’s a few things on the line here, but there’s also pride on the line coming off of a deflating defeat.  We’ve got to show up to play.”

It is also a pivotal match in the Cascadia Cup, as Seattle sits three points behind the Portland Timbers in the standings with still two matches left to play for the Sounders.  The Sounders are 1-1-2 (5 points) while Portland is 2-0-2 (8 points).  Vancouver is in third at 0-2-2 (2 points) and still has a chance to force a three-way tie atop the standings if they can win both of their remaining matches and Seattle tops Portland next week at CenturyLink Field.

That trophy drives the Sounders in this match.

“We know these next two games are for the Cup and we want that to stay with our fans,” head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “We think that’s where it belongs and we want to make sure it stays there.”

In the Whitecaps, the Sounders meet a team that has been struggling of late despite a series of mid-season moves that looked like they would do wonders to improve their club.

In addition to designated players in forward Kenny Miller and midfielder Barry Robson, the Whitecaps added defender Andy O’Brien to the mix and traded for midfielder Dane Richards.  While Richards will be unavailable because of yellow card accumulation, the other three players are likely to be keys for Vancouver in the match.

However, they have been winless at 0-5-1 in their last six matches and are on the brink of falling behind FC Dallas for the fifth spot in the West.  That makes them dangerous, according to Schmid.

“It’s a long season and you go through streaks in the season and they’re in a streak right now that they want to get out of as soon as possible,” Schmid said.  “They’re definitely a much-improved team over last season and they’re fighting for their playoff lives right now.”

The Sounders are prepared for a battle as they get into the last five games of the regular season.  The pressure is building and they are prepared to face the rigors of a playoff push.

“The guys are fully committed and looking forward to the game,” said forward Eddie Johnson.  “It doesn’t get any bigger than a Cascadia game.”

Kickoff is set for 6 pm Pacific  from BC Place with national television coverage on NBC Sports and the local radio broadcast on 97.3 KIRO FM.