There is precious little room for error as the Seattle Sounders head into their final three games of the 2022 regular season. It’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where they qualify for the MLS postseason without getting a positive result on Tuesday against FC Cincinnati.
While this may have felt like a bit of a gimme at the start of the year, FCC has enjoyed an impressive turnaround under first-year head coach Pat Noonan. FCC currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference with 45 points and already have more road wins (5) than in their previous two seasons combined (4) and just two fewer than they had in their entire three-year history (7).
Here’s what you need to know:
FC Cincinnati is a lot better!
No team had ever finished last in the MLS standings for three straight seasons until FC Cincinnati managed to do just that last year. They’ve already won more home games (6) than they had in their entire MLS history. Maybe more impressively, they’ve been nearly as good on the road, where their 21 points are more than all but six teams have earned.
Leading the way is the three-headed attack of Brandon Vazquez (16 goals, 5 assists), Brenner (14g, 5a) and Luciano Acosta (8g, 18a). All three are expected to be available against the Sounders.
Lots of missing starters
The Sounders will be missing six likely starters from this game. Five of those players are currently on international duty — Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador), Jordan Morris (United States), Nouhou (Cameroon), Alex Roldán (El Salvador) and Raúl Ruidíaz (Perú) — while Nicolás Lodeiro is serving a suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
FCC doesn’t appear to be missing any players for international duty and their injured players are all longer-term issues.
Notably, this match was originally scheduled outside of an international window but was moved to accommodate Concacaf Champions League play.
Who steps up?
If he was so inclined, Schmetzer could go with a lineup that still relies just as heavily on veterans as he normally does. That would mean playing guys like Jimmy Medranda, Kelyn Rowe, Fredy Montero and Will Bruin to plug many of the holes. I suspect we’ll probably see a bit more of a hybrid, with either Leó Chú or Dylan Teves getting a look at left winger with Ethan Dobbelaere potentially getting a look at right back. Jackson Ragen is also likely to return to the starting lineup. Danny Leyva and Josh Atencio will almost certainly get the nod in central midfield, but that’s basically become the default decision over the last few games. Schmetzer will be looking at the young guys to not just raise the energy level but also show a bit of class that has often been missing of late. Notably, a lineup much like this one beat Toronto FC 2-0 earlier this year.
Cristian Roldan will play
It’s not yet clear how big of a role he’ll play, but Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer did say that he’s expecting Cristian Roldan to play for the first time since Aug. 14. Roldan has missed the Sounders’ last six games after undergoing groin surgery. Prior to his injury, Roldan was enjoying his most productive season to date, with five goals and 10 assists across all competitions. It seems like a reasonable bet that he’ll come off the bench, but just how much he plays will likely depend on his level of pain. The Sounders went 2-4-0 in Roldan’s absence.
What the math says
After the LA Galaxy’s win over San Jose Earthquakes earlier this week, the Sounders are six points out of the final playoff spot with three games left to play. A loss won’t literally eliminate them because they still have the tiebreaker on just about everyone, but to reach the postseason in that scenario will require a confluence of results elsewhere that is hard to fathom happening.
A win, however, would pull the Sounders to within three points while having played the same number of games as everyone else. While that still will require several teams ahead of them to drop points, the scenarios aren’t nearly as far-fetched.