TUKWILA — Playoff week arrived for the Sounders with a demanding assignment: an elimination game just 72 hours after Sunday’s regular-season finale.
Difficult? Sure. But better than the alternative.
“You’d rather be doing this, getting ready for a game on Wednesday, than cleaning out your locker,” coach Sigi Schmid said of the quick turnaround ahead of a play-in game against the Colorado Rapids.
Indeed, a new season has begun, and if history is any indication, get ready for a wild and unpredictable six weeks until the MLS Cup.
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Three of the past four champions have finished fourth place or worse in the Western Conference — Real Salt Lake (2009), Colorado (2010), Los Angeles (2012) — and that is precisely where Seattle fell after a seven-game winless streak to end the regular season.
The two MLS Cup finalists last year, Los Angeles (West No. 4) and Houston (East No. 5), played in their respective play-in games, as well.
In fact, only once in the past five years has the team with the best regular-season record advanced to the championship game: the 2011 Galaxy.
“There doesn’t seem to be really any correlation between where you finish in the standings and what happens in the playoffs,” said Adrian Hanauer, part owner and general manager of the Sounders. “If we can get things right and get our guys on the field, we feel we have a good chance of doing some damage.”
Volatility in the MLS postseason translates to hope for the Sounders, particularly after their worst season by nearly every measure. Seattle finished with team lows in points per game (1.53), goal differential (zero), goals scored per game (1.24) and goals allowed per game (1.24).
“Nobody remembers the regular season if you do well in the playoffs,” said goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
Schmid added: “Every dog can have their day.”
The Sounders need not look far for inspiration ahead of a hopeful run as a low seed. New acquisition Adam Moffat, added in a September trade with Houston, was part of the Dynamo squad that advanced to the MLS Cup last year as the one of the last teams into the postseason field.
“You look at teams like Salt Lake, Colorado when they won; they all weren’t in the greatest positions,” Moffat said. “It really doesn’t matter. Once you get in there, it’s all about producing your best.”
A potential wild card on the Sounders’ side is Clint Dempsey, who scored his first goal of the season in Sunday’s 1-1 tie against the Galaxy, thus ending a 590-minute drought of production since coming to Seattle.
Schmid said the goal “takes a lot of pressure” off Dempsey, and opponents are certainly wary of the U.S. national-team star heating up.
RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey told The Salt Lake Tribune: “There’s a sleeping giant up there, and his name is Clint Dempsey — and you don’t want him to wake up.”
Same goes for the rest of the talent-laden Sounders as a new season, one known for its surprises, it set to begin.
• Gspurning returned to the lineup Sunday after a two-game benching, the second goalkeeper change the Sounders have made this month. Schmid said the competition is still alive with backup Marcus Hahnemann, but Schmid liked what he saw from Gspurning, his primary starter the past two years: “I think we saw the goalkeeper who was averaging less than a goal for 40-plus games.”
Gspurning, a 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year finalist, said he used the situation “to push the reset button and go back to the basics.”
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.