SEATTLE (AP) — The next week could end up being huge for the Seattle Sounders’ efforts to continue their streak of making the MLS playoffs every season of their existence.
It might end up being just as important to the postseason hopes of the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers.
The Sounders and Timbers resume their rivalry on Sunday night in Seattle, before a return engagement the following Sunday in Portland. Two crucially important games in a seven-day span between the two most heated rivals in the MLS and with playoff positioning at stake.
“It’s going to make it really interesting especially considering where both clubs are at right now,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “Both clubs need points, crucial stage of the season. What I’ve noticed in the 3½ years I’ve coached in this league versus Seattle, it’s always bigger than three points in terms of momentum and confidence. I think it’s really going to be a dramatic couple of games.”
Seattle enters the week five points behind Portland, with the Timbers currently holding down the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The nature of Seattle’s schedule going forward puts the utmost importance on the upcoming week that includes a road game at Houston sandwiched between the two Portland matches. If Seattle can come away with nine points, it will vault back into contention for a playoff berth entering the final eight matches of the regular season. Come away emptyhanded or with minimal points from the three games and the Sounders will need significant help to put themselves in the MLS postseason for the eighth straight season.
“I am well aware of the mathematics, the arithmetic, but again because we’re in this predicament because we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole,” interim Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. “But we have to focus, whether it’s Portland, Vancouver, Kansas City, we’re fighting against everybody really. We have to catch not just Portland, we have to catch multiple teams. That’s the kind of messaging I’ve been giving to the team.”
Seattle put itself in this position with a miserable first half of the season. The Sounders were 4-4-1 after beating San Jose on May 7 then proceeded to lose five of their next six and eight of 11, eventually leading to coach Sigi Schmid and the club parting ways. The winningest coach in MLS history couldn’t find the right mix to achieve success this season.
Since Schmetzer took over, the Sounders are 2-0-1, pulling within five points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It might not seem like much, but it’s the first time since April that the Sounders are unbeaten in three straight games.
That turnaround also coincided with the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro as Seattle’s newest designated player. In his limited time, the skilled playmaker has looked worthy of the lofty price Seattle paid to land the Uruguayan. Lodeiro has brought new creativity into Seattle’s midfield and taken some of the ball-handling responsibility off of Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris.
“Adding Lodeiro has changed the game for their team,” Porter said.
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