Back when the Seattle Sounders were struggling to stay afloat in the MLS race and beset by injuries, coach Sigi Schmid anticipated a later surge and with it the prospect for entering the playoffs in the manner that the team did in its first year of existence in 2009.
“I think it will take 45 points to ensure a playoff berth,” Schmid said.
Gradually Seattle Sounders FC went to work bettering its position and now it stands on the threshold of achieving Schmid’s goal. The team stands currently at 11-9-6, which is good for 39 points.
Saturday at 12:30 pm on the familiar Xbox Pitch of Qwest Field, Seattle can take a large step toward playoff status by surmounting the challenge of Toronto FC, one of its closest rivals for an MLS postseason wild card slot. The Canadian club stands at 8-11-7 with 31 points. Saturday’s match will be the Sounders’ 30th consecutive sellout.
After the team’s Thursday workout Schmid commented on the Sounders’ road to the playoffs:
“You sort of catch yourself wanting to look ahead [to the U.S. Open Cup final] but Toronto is a big game. We know we still want the points there. We are playing at home. We have got two of our last four at home in league (competition).
"If we can win both home games we feel pretty good. We get to that total of 45 points...Winning those two home games gets us what I think is the magic number that puts you in for sure without any doubts in anybody’s minds and winning home games is key to that.”
The Sounders have unfinished business with Toronto. The Canadian team administered a 2-0 shutout against Seattle April 25 at BMO field. Conversely, by going into action eight points behind Seattle, Toronto’s position becomes increasingly crucial to win to stay afloat in seeking a playoff berth.
This is a much more solid Sounders team than the one Toronto defeated on its home pitch in April. Not only did injured players return, but two top international acquisitions were added who have contributed to the team’s success, World Cup performers Blaise Nkufo of Switzerland and Alvaro Fernandez of Uruguay.
Seattle is on a current roll. Sounders FC is undefeated in its last five (3-0-2) league home games and has not lost in its last eight (6-0-2) since June 10 in domestic competition.
Wednesday the Sounders broke into the victory column in round five CONCACAF Champions League competition. The Sounders defeated CD Marathón 2-0 on its home turf behind two Mike Fucito goals. While the Sounders will not be advancing to the final knockout round of competition, the victory can help serve as a meaningful building block for the future, especially for Seattle’s younger players.
“Anytime you win games is always a positive,” Schmid said. “It (the Marathon game) was an opportunity for the players who don’t play as much to show (their skills). Like we have always talked about, winning breeds winning.
"I think for our team it was important that we are capable of winning in the Champions League, that we are capable of beating teams from there. I wish our schedule had been better, wish we had done better. But, for sure, it helps our confidence.”
On Tuesday, October 5 the Sounders will be pitted in another type of challenging competition for possession of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Seattle will defend its 2009 title against the Columbus Crew, winner of three MLS trophies in the past two years. First kick is 7 p.m. PT and Fox Soccer Channel will air the game live.
The Frequent Flier Seattle Sounders went the distance last week. The team logged the last of its 18,000 miles of September travel. The final leg was an important 1-0 MLS win over the Chicago Fire. It was Seattle’s third straight shutout and raised the club's record to 7-1-3 in the second half of the season.
Although Sounders FC earned its first points in the group stage in its win over Marathón, it has been eliminated from advancing to the next round. The MLS picture, however, is much rosier for the Rave Green. Seattle moved up in the wild card standings last week and increased its lead over its nearest challengers.
Seattle seeks to become the first team in the Open Cup's modern era to retain the championship. By doing so, it would double the size of its trophy collection and likely ensure a berth in the 2011-12 Champions League.
Schmid provided an injury update on Pat Noonan and Mike Fucito, revealing, “Noonan had surgery so he should be back on Saturday. Fucito’s x-rays were negative so it’s just how he responds to treatment.”