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Postgame Pontifications: Slip in form causing some frustrations

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Sounders have fallen off their record-breaking pace over the last six games.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Raúl Ruidíaz’s 93rd minute strike marked the third time this year that a stoppage-time goal improved a Seattle Sounders result. It was an undeniably positive takeaway from Wednesday’s 1-1 tie with the LA Galaxy and a sign that the Sounders still very much embody Brian Schmetzer’s “we never quit” ethos.

Mathematically, it wasn’t quite as meaningful. The only difference it made statistically is that it gives the Sounders a slightly better chance to move into the top seed. Even without that point, they could have finished no lower than fourth and still could have moved up to second, as long as the Portland Timbers don’t claim full points.

To actually move into first, the Sounders will need some help. In addition to having to beat the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, the Sounders will also need Sporting KC to do no better than tie their season finale against Real Salt Lake. If the Sounders had lost to the Galaxy, they’d have needed KC to lose their season finale.

Unfortunately, that game may not even be played as Sporting KC and RSL have recently each had a player test positive for Covid-19 and RSL’s training staff has had an outbreak. If that game doesn’t get played, the KC is guaranteed to finish first on points per game.

But beyond the playoff implications, Schmetzer was a bit frustrated with the result even if he appreciated the effort.

“Everybody says it’s positive because we stole a point,” Schmetzer said. “My opinion is that game has to hurt. We’re the defending champs, we have to win these kinds of games. We need to have passion.

“That’s what I asked them — does this hurt? How are we going to win a championship? Is this good enough? This has to hurt because it’s two points lost.”

More than just the two points lost, it’s hard to escape that the Sounders have been in a bit of a funk for the last three weeks or so. They’ve gone 1-2-3 in that span, scoring just six goals. Those aren’t necessarily alarm-bell type of numbers, but they’re a significant drop off from the pace they had been on.

The Sounders had gone 5-1-0 and outscored their opponents 18-5 during the six games immediately before this stretch. That run of form had put them on a pace to finish the season with per-game numbers on par with LAFC’s record-breaking 2019.

There are plenty of viable reasons why the Sounders have fallen off that pace. It’s no coincidence that this slide started shortly after international duty cost the Sounders three starters for four games apiece. There have also been injuries and some intense schedule congestion.

Still, the Sounders can still finish first in the Western Conference for just the second time ever and can post their best regular-season record since 2014 with a win. Schmetzer is treating the regular-season finale like the first playoff game, a tacit acknowledgement that repeating as MLS Cup champs will require reverting to the team’s earlier season form.

“I’m trying to drive an extra 3-5% out of a team that gives a great effort,” Schmetzer said. “You have to find something extra to win championships. ... If you say you’re satisfied with a draw, you’re never going to win a championship.”