With playoff berth clinched, Seattle Sounders turn focus to defending MLS Cup

SEATTLE — In the penultimate match of the 2017 MLS regular season, a game without two of their best players in captain Osvaldo Alonso and forward Jordan Morris, the Seattle Sounders orchestrated one of their most complete performances of the year and clinched their ninth consecutive Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.

Seattle owns the longest active MLS playoff streak and has made the playoffs in every year of its existence.

“It’s a great achievement,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer beamed. “You’ve got to credit Adrian [Hanauer] for having the vision to bring MLS here and his commitment to the group. You’ve got to compliment [Sigi Schmid] for his tenure here. You’ve got to compliment Garth [Lagerwey], Chris [Henderson], we all do the job, but coming back to this team now — I would be remiss not to mention the other players on the other eight playoff teams.

“This team is committed to winning,” Schmetzer continued. “This franchise is committed to winning. That shows being now the only [active] club to make the playoffs nine years in a row. That is a fantastic achievement and it stems from the culture of the club, the guys who put it in every game and every day at training and from the support staff.”

The goal now for the Sounders is to earn a first-round bye, which they can do with a win over the Colorado Rapids next week. Seattle can only finish as high as second by virtue of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers playing each other, but it would go a long way in getting players — Alonso and Morris, especially — healthy for another playoff run.

“We have to make sure we’re laser-focused on our last game of the year,” said Schmetzer. “Would it be nice? Yes. It certainly would give us a little bit of rest in that short week before the start of the playoffs, so that’s something we’re definitely going to go after.”

Added forward Will Bruin: “You don’t want to play a one-off play-in game because it’s a toss-up in this league with all the parity. We’re going to enjoy it, but we’re going to regroup. This can’t really be a trap game with Colorado looking at the standings because when I was in Houston, I’ve been on that side where you’re not in the playoffs and you’re going to try and ruin somebody else’s placement.”

The Sounders comprehend how difficult it is to get back into the playoffs following an MLS Cup title, let alone to defend it. The two 2015 MLS Cup finalists, the Timbers and Columbus Crew SC, each failed to make the postseason last year. Teams who win have shorter offseasons and tend to have targets on their back for the entirety of the following season, which has made the Sounders’ successful 2017 all the more impressive.

“You have everybody pulling in the right direction for this franchise, we should all take a lot of pride in that,” Schmetzer said. “The energy of the crowd lifted us. Once we got the second goal, I thought we were in control of the match. All the credit is to the players in that room who really stepped up.

“I challenged everybody just to be better.”