TUKWILA — In the race for MLS’s Western Conference title, it seems … that nobody wants it.
Sporting Kansas City, the Sounders FC and Colorado Rapids have all been in position to build hefty leads with a couple of wins or even a few draws. Kansas City was the latest that could’ve taken a controlling lead headed into the final match of the season but lost 3-1 on Wednesday to Austin FC, which was already eliminated from postseason contention.
The Sounders lead the conference by one point and are on a five-game winless streak. Colorado is tied with Kansas City with 58 points each. The Rapids are 2-2-1 in their past five matches, including a 1-1 result against the Sounders.
“This league in general is crazy,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said.
The wildest part of all is that the Sounders (17-8-8) still lead the conference despite the bad results, loss of first-choice players to injuries and congested schedule. But headed into Decision Day on Sunday, Seattle, Kansas City, and Colorado still have a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed, which grants a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Sounders have control, needing to just beat their Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place to seal the top spot. A win would also award the Sounders the Cascadia Cup, a competition between the three Pacific Northwest Clubs, the Portland Timbers rounding out the trio.
Vancouver (12-8-12) is one of 11 teams in the league jockeying for one of the six playoffs slots available in the Eastern and Western conferences combined.
“It’s frustrating because we’ve treated the last couple games as a playoff game and it hasn’t gone our way,” Roldan said. “Now we find ourselves in a position to clinch first place with a win. That mentality has to stay the same, but the actual soccer on the field is what needs to get better.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said he’s spotted areas to improve in multiple areas. On Thursday, the team worked on offense at their facility at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.
“Both teams have had chances to put this to bed already, and we haven’t done it,” Schmetzer said. “No. 1 would be nice. It would be a just reward for the amount of adversity and the work that these guys have put in throughout the full year. But, first or second doesn’t really matter. I just want the team to play well the last game of the season.”
As expected, Roldan was called up by the U.S. men’s national team for World Cup qualifying matches against Mexico (Nov. 14) and Jamaica (Nov. 16). And defender Nouhou will represent Cameroon for qualifying matches against Malawi (Nov. 13) and Cote d’Ivoire (Nov. 16).
Not expected was Sounders defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade being called up by Colombia for World Cup qualifying matches against Brazil (Nov. 11) and Paraguay (Nov. 16). It will be Yeimar’s first international cap.
“It just shows the level of MLS is growing when you have three center backs that are all playing for their respective national team,” Schmetzer said of Yeimar joining Nouhou and Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador). “For Yeimar to be called in at this stage of his career certainly shows that he’s been playing at a high level.”
Yeimar, 29, was voted to the MLS All-Star team this season and leads the league in interceptions with 86.
More Sounders players could be named to their national teams this weekend. All are expected to depart after Sunday’s match for international duty. The MLS postseason begins Nov. 20.
Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz had an MRI for his left hamstring injury and nothing significant was found, according to Schmetzer. Ruidiaz is listed as day-to-day. He and defensive midfielder Joao Paulo were doing light jogging while the team trained Thursday.
Left wingback Jimmy Medranda participated in the bulk of training after suffering a hamstring injury while Nouhou is back to full strength. He was subbed off at the start of the second half Monday after getting hit in the back of the leg in the first half. Schmetzer said Nouhou wanted to play through the pain but couldn’t.
Forward Will Bruin is out after undergoing arthroscopy surgery on his right knee earlier this week. There’s a chance he could return for postseason play.