The 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs may not officially start until next week, but the Seattle Sounders, who host the Colorado Rapids on Sunday (1 p.m. PT; JOEtv, Univision-Seattle, 107.7 The End, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS) with a chance to secure a Knockout Round bye, are treating the final regular-season match this weekend as the first step toward defending their MLS Cup title.
“We’re viewing it as a playoff game,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said. “It’s a one-and-done. You know in this league full of parity, we could end up fifth and then you don’t even have the home game…I’m sure the home team has a distinct advantage, but if you’re [Nos.] 5 and 6, it’s a struggle.”
The Sounders enter Sunday third in the Western Conference, two points behind first-place Vancouver and even on points (but trailing on Total Wins tiebreaker) with the Portland Timbers. A win over the Rapids would guarantee Seattle the No. 2 seed irrespective of other results and earn home-field advantage for the Western Conference Semifinals.
“The toughest week you can potentially face is playing the last game of the season [and then immediately starting the postseason],” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “In the span of a week there’s three high-intensity games. [That week last year was] the most grueling week I’ve ever had mentally and physically. It’d be really nice to make that week a bit easier and scratch that middle game and then get someone who, on the other hand, has to go through that.”
Seattle defeated Colorado 3-1 in their last meeting on July 4 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO, behind a pair of goals from Clint Dempsey and another from Will Bruin. The Sounders also knocked off the Rapids in last year’s Western Conference Championship to advance to the club’s first MLS Cup Final.
The Rapids have since changed head coaches, though, as they parted ways with Pablo Mastroeni and appointed Steve Cooke as interim head coach in mid-August. Colorado is 3-6-2 since Cooke took over, and in 10th place in the West a year after missing the Supporters’ Shield by two points, but is 2-0-1 in its last three matches.
“Steve [Cooke] is actually in a coaching course I’m taking, so I know him well,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a good coach, he’s done a good job under adverse circumstances.”
The Sounders defeated Sporting Kansas City in the Knockout Round last season via a late goal from Nelson Valdez, but are hoping it doesn’t come to that this year. Especially with the likes of Osvaldo Alonso, Jordan Morris and Gustav Svensson injured, a first-round bye and more time off would go a long way toward another deep playoff run.
“You want to avoid the Knockout Round because anything can happen in those games,” said Bruin. “In the playoffs, the chances you get are limited because everybody is a lot more focused, a lot more clued in, so you have to finish off plays and make plays.
“All the little details are more important in the playoffs,” he continued. “It could be a misplayed pass, a turnover that leads to a goal and your season’s over. All the little details add to the big picture, and if you take care of the little details then the results will take care of themselves.”