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Portland match is 'do or die' for Sounders as playoff race heats up

As Sounders FC captain Brad Evans put it earlier this summer, the Major League Soccer regular season is comparable to a wild roller-coaster ride. Every team goes through ups and downs during the 34-match campaign as they battle for spots in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Seattle has reached the postseason every year since it joined the league in 2009. But unless the club turns things around soon, that streak is at risk of coming to an end this season.

“It’s do or die right now,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “Every point matters.”

With eight matches remaining for the Sounders, the Western Conference playoff race is tighter than ever. Sitting in the sixth and final playoff spot, the Rave Green are tied on points with San Jose and just three points ahead of Houston and Salt Lake, who are tied for eighth. Even last-place Colorado remains in the hunt, as the Rapids sit just two points behind RSL.

Sounders FC must take advantage of every chance to climb up the standings. That starts Sunday when the club hosts the Portland Timbers, who are currently five points ahead of Seattle.

“The guys have to realize that we are fighting for our lives,” Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “That’s a realization that has to set in. A gambler told me long ago, ‘Never bet against a desperate team.’ ...We have to get that point of desperation. Then you’ll see us stand up.”

The good news for Sounders FC is that, although its schedule is surely a difficult one, the club’s final seven games all come against fellow Western Conference teams. Three of those matchups are with clubs that currently sit below Seattle in the standings (Salt Lake, San Jose and Houston).

“There are still plenty of massive games coming up that could swing either way,” Evans said. “It’s up to us to put our head down. We’ve got a rivalry game against Portland on Sunday, and if we want to make a step forward, we have got to get a result.”

Seattle and Portland have split the two games between them so far this season, with each team earning a victory at home. Not only would a win on Sunday be crucial to their playoff hopes, but the Sounders can also jump into first place in the 2015 Cascadia Cup standings with one match to go.

More than 63,000 fans are expected for Sunday’s contest, the second full-stadium match of the season. History suggests Sounders FC has the upper hand in this situation: The club is an unblemished 5-0-1 in front of at least 60,000 fans, including a 3-0-0 record against Portland.

In fact, the Timbers have never won a regular-season game at CenturyLink Field (0-4-2).

“Playing in front of hopefully a sold-out crowd will be great,” said keeper Troy Perkins, who played for Portland in 2011 and 2012. “The atmosphere around the club is good – the guys are in good spirits. We’re learning to fight as a group. We’ve got to take it to Portland and show them that, even though they’re ahead of us, they don’t deserve to be there.”

Sunday’s match kicks off from CenturyLink Field at 2:01 p.m. PT sharp. National television coverage on ESPN begins at 1:30 with a 30-minute pregame show.