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‘It’s do-or-die at this point’: Sounders well aware of stakes in tonight’s game

It’s not just a rivalry game against the Timbers, but also a game with massive playoff implications.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA — Ever since the Seattle Sounders won Concacaf Champions League there have been discussions about how much longer this season has felt. It has often been suggested that those eight extra games front-loaded into the season have had the knock-on effect of sapping not just the energy of the team, but also the emotions.

As much as the Sounders have talked about understanding the need to start winning games in order to make the most of the MLS campaign, they’ve also known that there was wiggle room. But sitting outside of playoff position with eight games remaining — even if it’s just by a single point — means any sense of comfort should now be gone.

The Sounders seem to be embracing that idea heading into tonight’s game against the Portland Timbers.

“It’s do-or-die at this point,” Sounders defender Alex Roldán said this week. “We’re fighting for the opportunity to be in the playoffs. With the history of this team, we’re not ready to let go of it. It all starts with this next game.”

In order to qualify for their 14th straight MLS postseason, the Sounders will probably need at least 46 points — the current pace of the seventh-place team in the Western Conference. The Sounders would need 13 points over their final eight games to reach that mark.

Since Brian Schmetzer took over as head coach in 2016, the Sounders have averaged 13.68 points over their final eight games. The only year they closed out with fewer than 12 points over that span was 2021, when they had just nine after limping to the finish line winless in their final six.

While not exactly a purposeful strategy, the Sounders have been able to ride the momentum of strong regular-season finishes to four MLS Cup appearances.

There have been ample reasons to doubt the Sounders have a similar run in them this year, but there were some signs last week that it’s at least possible. After falling behind 2-0 to the Galaxy, the Sounders came roaring back to take a 3-2 lead, only to surrender a stoppage-time equalizer on a penalty. Rather than express contentment with the effort and an increasingly rare road point, the message from the team is that it felt like a loss.

“We have to keep building,” Sounders forward Jordan Morris said. “This game on Friday is massive.”

Beyond the playoff implications — the Timbers are also just one point out of the playoffs — there’s been a constant drumbeat of a desire to exact a measure of revenge for what happened in these teams’ previous meeting. In July, the Timbers scored a 3-0 win that not only ruined the Concacaf Champions League celebration but also started the Sounders on the 2-6-1 run of form they’re still struggling to turn around.

“We want to be aggressive and we want to be on the front foot,” Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnák said on Sounders Weekly. “I think we owe them something for that home game we played a couple months ago. We’re going with the mentality we want to win.”

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