TUKWILA — Midweek results around the Western Conference could hardly have gone any better than they did for the Seattle Sounders. Minnesota United (home draw against LAFC), Real Salt Lake (loss to Austin FC) and LA Galaxy (loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps) all dropped points.
Those results helped improve the Sounders’ chances to make the playoffs to about 33%, according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections. That’s up from about 29% prior to those games.
But the most important game for the Sounders’ playoff chances is one they control: Saturday’s road match against the Whitecaps. A win likely pushes the Sounders’ chances over 50%, while a loss likely pushes them down to about 15%.
“Results have gone our way,” Schmetzer acknowledged on Friday. “But we still have to do our job. We can’t think teams are going roll over.”
They’ll be facing a Whitecaps team that put on an impressive second-half display against the Galaxy. With their season literally hanging in the balance, the Whitecaps scored three second-half goals to snap a four-game winless run in which they scored just twice.
Schmetzer noted that the Whitecaps changed up a few things, most notably defending from more of a 4-4-2 while attacking in their more traditional 3-4-3. Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini acknowledged that he may be forced to rotate his lineup a bit, but Schmetzer still expects the Sounders to have their hands full even though Vancouver is still missing leading scorer Lucas Cavallini, who will be serving the third game of a four-game suspension.
“It’s a dangerous group,” Schmetzer said.
The Sounders are currently mired in a streak of seven road games in which they’ve only picked up a single point and are on pace to have their worst-ever road campaign (.73 points per game). On their most recent three-game road trip, they claimed just a single point despite leading in each game and have now lost two road games in which they led by two goals, something they’d never before done in their MLS history.
If they are to make a 14th consecutive MLS postseason — to speak nothing of what they might need to do if they make the playoffs as a lower seed — they will almost certainly need to improve on both marks.
But this is also a team that is only marginally changed from the one that was among the best in MLS away from home a year ago. They are also visiting BC Place, a place they’ve gone 2-1-3 under Schmetzer. The Sounders are 11-1-4 overall against the Whitecaps during Schmetzer’s tenure.
“We’re not afraid of going on the road,” Schmetzer insisted. “This group has confidence.”
As many as six Sounders could be called up for international duty next week, but Schmetzer seemed at least a little optimistic that some of them will still be available for the Sept. 27 match against FC Cincinnati.
Jordan Morris (USA), Nouhou (Cameroon) and Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) are all on World Cup-bound sides and are unlikely to be released. But there might be more room for compromise for Raúl Ruidíaz (Peru), Alex Roldán (El Salvador) and Albert Rusnák (Slovakia).
“They all understand what playoffs are about in America,” Schmetzer said, noting that this is a FIFA international window, which means the Sounders can’t decline the call-ups. “We’re continuing to work with everybody to find solutions.”