Not many teams clinch a playoff berth amid a four-game losing streak.
The Sounders did this weekend thanks to a result they had nothing to do with. The final push came when the Los Angeles Galaxy held San Jose to a scoreless tie Sunday to secure Seattle’s place in postseason for the fifth straight year.
The Earthquakes’ were effectively eliminated with the tie, meaning the Western Conference field will all but officially consist of Portland, Real Salt Lake, L.A., Seattle and Colorado. San Jose would have to score at least 12 goals in its final game to make up a lopsided difference to the Rapids in a potential goals-scored tiebreaker.
For the Sounders, the key is making the most of the favor and not just extending end-of-the-season woes for another game.
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Seattle’s latest loss in a growing snowball of disappointment came on the road Saturday against FC Dallas, an opponent that had already been eliminated from making the playoffs, has a lame-duck coach who will resign after the season, and had two players nearly come to blows heading into the locker room at halftime.
A 2-0 defeat was Seattle’s fourth in a row, which sets a franchise record for futility. A six-game winless streak is tied for the second longest the team has had.
Coach Sigi Schmid has shouldered responsibility for not being able to find the right mix to break out of the slump, and questions surrounding his job security are starting to get raised.
The best — and perhaps only — way to answer is with a deep playoff run as the team’s preeminent goal, the MLS Cup, is still in play.
Trouble is, Seattle has hardly looked like the team it is expected to be, both in the players on the field (injuries and national team duty have hit hard and often throughout the year) and in performance (the Sounders are winless in their last six games).
This month has been the worst.
At the start of October, Seattle was in a leading position to claim two trophies: the Cascadia Cup (a regional competition with Vancouver and Portland) and the Supporters’ Shield (awarded to the team with the best regular-season record). Instead, a trophy drought of about two years continues.
The Cascadia Cup went to Vancouver last week and the Sounders have been eliminated in a competitive Supporters’ Shield race. Overall, Seattle is 0 for its last 11 in the pursuit of silverware after having claimed four of the first nine trophies possible upon joining MLS in 2009: U.S. Open Cups (2009-11), Cascadia Cup (2011).
“You’ve just got to keep fighting and keep grinding,” said forward Clint Dempsey. “The stronger you are, the farther you’ll go. Hopefully we can turn things around.”
The man who many are looking to lead that turnaround is Dempsey.
The U.S. national team captain has yet to record a goal or assist for the Sounders in 561 minutes since signing in August. His high-profile addition made Seattle’s roster look as strong as ever, even if he hasn’t been 100 percent. Just 12 minutes after returning to the starting lineup last week from a hamstring injury, Dempsey separated his shoulder when he fell hard after being fouled.
Perhaps it has been a microcosm of the Sounders’ wildly up-and-down season. But most important, there will be a postseason.
• The Sounders finished the regular season with a 5-10-2 record and a minus-14 goal differential on the road; both are by far the worst in franchise history.