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Sounders look to improve playoff spot in battle for Cascadia

In addition to defending the Cascadia Cup against the rival Portland Timbers, Sunday's matchup at CenturyLink Field will be about the Sounders looking to improve their MLS Cup playoff standing.

On Sunday when Sounders FC entertains a crowd of over 66,000 at CenturyLink Field in the club’s final derby match of the season against the Portland Timbers, they will have much more at stake than just the Cascadia Cup. 

As they have said in the past, the Cascadia Cup is but one goal that will help lead them to further accomplishments as they look to improve their standing in the Western Conference to help them reach the ultimate goal for the season of an MLS Cup title.

“We talked a number of weeks ago and we set a couple goals for ourselves and one of those was to have that No. 2 spot in the West,” said Sounders FC midfielder Brad Evans.  “That’s still within our grasp and that’s something that we really want.”

The Sounders are currently in fourth place in the Western Conference with 49 points (13-7-10), just one point behind the LA Galaxy (15-11-5, 50 points) and three points behind Real Salt Lake (16-11-4, 52 points).  The Sounders also have four games remaining on their schedule, while LA and Salt Lake each have three games left.  If Seattle can climb out of the fourth spot, they will avoid the play-in round, which pits the fourth and fifth place teams against each other in a one-game playoff.

“If we can eliminate that playoff game, I think that will benefit us in the long run,” Evans said.

Down the stretch, Seattle will face Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy, along with an FC Dallas club that is currently two points behind the Whitecaps in the playoff hunt.  However, Sunday’s match against the eighth-place Timbers may be just as dangerous because the Cascadia Cup is within reach for both teams.

The Timbers lead the Cascadia Cup standings with eight points (2-0-2) and the Sounders follow with six points (1-1-3).  Vancouver is third with three points (0-2-3) and have no chance to win the northwest derby in 2012.  However, they still could play a hand in the final trophy presentation.  If the Sounders lose or draw on Sunday, the Timbers will be awarded the cup after the match.  But if Seattle wins, they will take a one point lead over Portland, who will then play the Whitecaps on October 21 at BC Place.

That dynamic separates this match from other similar matchups pitting a playoff team against a team that has been eliminated from postseason contention.

“It’s all inter-related.  The three points are important to us.  This being a rivalry game, what ends up happening is we’re not getting a game like Salt Lake got where they run into a Chivas team that maybe the air has gone out of the balloon a little bit and there’s not as much to play for,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “You can say you’re playing for your job, but it’s different.  A win for Portland gives them the Cascadia Cup.”

A win on Sunday may not ensure that the Sounders win the cup, but it will certainly go a long way toward helping them in the Western Conference standings.  And while the Cascadia Cup may not be the primary source of motivation, the importance of the match to the fans definitely resonates with the team.

“We want to win it for the fans.  They work hard all year and come and support us, so it’s important that we represent them and do well for them,” defender Jeff Parke said.  “Anytime we can give back to them, it’s very important.”

Kickoff is slated for 6 pm from CenturyLink Field with the national television broadcast on ESPN and local radio coverage on 770 KTTH.