The worst didn’t happen.
Major League Soccer provided some entertaining matches since the Sounders FC last played, but not enough key losses to ensure the club will continue in the MLS is Back Tournament. Seattle (0-1-1) is reduced to a cliché for its final group-stage match Sunday — win or go home.
The Sounders play the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC at 7:30 p.m. at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which is southwest of Orlando in Florida. The match will air on Fox Sports 1.
A loss eliminates the Rave Green from the 24-team tournament.
The top two teams from the tournament’s six groups automatically advance to the Round of 16. The remaining positions are filled with the top four third-place teams.
As of Saturday, the Sounders were fifth in the wild-card standings with one point. The Philadelphia Union (six points) and Orlando City SC (six) clinched the automatic berths from Group A and Columbus Crew SC (six) won Group E.
“We’re desperate for points,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said via videoconference call with media Friday.
The Sounders’ third-place standing in Group B play is a result of a scoreless draw with San Jose in their opener July 10 and losing to Chicago Fire FC on Tuesday.
The Earthquakes defeated Vancouver on Wednesday to take the lead with four points. A win against the Fire (three points) on Sunday would clinch the group title for San Jose.
Vancouver has zero points after one match, putting the Whitecaps in a similar position as the Sounders. Chicago plays Vancouver on July 23 to close out Group B play.
“The implications of the match are certainly very large,” Schmetzer said. “The teams that have those moments of fluidity, the teams that can come together (like) Columbus, who’s shot to the top of the pack. Some of their movements, their attacking patterns, they’ve been crisp. They’ve been sharp. The flip side of that is the teams that make mistakes because they’re rusty, it’s preseason. … Those are the teams that are struggling a little bit.”
Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam feels his club has been in this position before.
True, the Sounders yo-yoed in the MLS Western Conference standings last year due to injuries and international call-ups toying with the starting lineup and cohesion. But Seattle, with the help of some losses, ultimately finished second in the conference standings.
The position guaranteed the club home matches through the playoff semifinals. The Sounders upset Los Angeles FC on the road for the conference championship and hosted MLS Cup, defeating Toronto FC before 69,274 fans last November at CenturyLink Field.
Since winning the league championship, the Sounders were ousted in the CONCACAF Champions League regional tournament in the opening round. And entering Sunday’s match appearing as if they haven’t adjusted to the sweltering heat after two weeks of training and sequestering in Florida due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Seattle is also expected to take the field without first-choice players in defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade and midfielder Joao Paulo due to injuries.
“We’ve had some issues,” Leerdam said via videoconference call. “But this is when we are our best. Looking back at last year when everyone was doubting us, especially in the middle of the season, we showed our true colors, and in the end we won the title. We’re in the same place right now. And, yeah, this is what you want as professional players — to show what you can do when you’re under immense pressure.”