TUKWILA — The Sounders are not yet at a point where they’re going to try anything drastic.
Winless in its past five matches, Seattle is watching its playoff hopes fade, but coach Brian Schmetzer isn’t going to bench all his starters to shake up the team. And he said he’s not going to try any trickery to secure a must-win against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday.
Instead, Schmetzer went a kinder route. He recently showed the team clips of their historic CONCACAF Champions League run last spring, wanting to remind the players of how good they are.
It didn’t work. Seattle is returning to Lumen Field after a three-game road trip during which it led each match against Los Angeles, Portland and Orlando but only picked up one point — the draw against the Galaxy.
“We loved seeing the moment, we loved seeing ourselves succeed and doing well,” Sounders forward Will Bruin said after training Saturday. “But at this day in reality, we’re not doing well … it was a tough, three hard road games where even three points out of those three games would put us in a better position.
“I can’t even put my finger on [the problem]. Maybe when we go up, we stop attacking, we stop playing free and play a little more tight? We need to be harder to beat like we were earlier in the year — which is hard in the midfield winning tackles, hard defensively, hard all the way front to back. We need to have more bite.”
The Sounders (10-15-3, 33 points) aren’t out of the postseason picture. They have six remaining matches — a maximum 18 possible points to gain — and are six points behind Portland for the seventh and final playoff slot in the Western Conference.
“Everybody is talking about winning four or five or winning four with two (draws),” Schmetzer said of forecasting ways to get above the playoff line. “We need to win this game so that we can even start thinking about winning four or five. The math guys have to pump the brakes. We have to win this game first.”
Houston (8-15-5, 29 points) is an ideal opponent to build momentum against. Seattle is unbeaten against the Dynamo at home through all competitions and defeated the Dynamo 1-0 in May.
Yet, in this quirky season where the Sounders had five penalties called against them during the road trip and conceded four, this club can’t rely on past trends.
The Dynamo played a midweek match against Supporters’ Shield-leading Los Angeles FC and won 2-1 at PNC Stadium. It was Houston’s first win against LAFC all-time and snapped a six-game winless skid.
“We’re finding ways to not win games,” Schmetzer said. “Steady is better than jumping around but there will be a couple of changes from the last game. We’ll see if those work. … They need to understand that it’s not going to be easy coming home and they can just do what they want to do.”
Houston will be without midfielder Darwin Ceren due to a mandatory one-game suspension for being sent off against LAFC. Mexican international Hector Herrera could also be out due to a right leg injury.
MLS rosters were cemented Friday, so the Sounders officially won’t have any acquisitions to spark a win.
Schmetzer is also closer to formally announcing midfielder Obed Vargas won’t be able to return from his lower-back injury. Vargas performed well in place of Joao Paulo when the 2021 league MVP finalist tore his ACL in May.
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan is progressing after undergoing groin surgery Aug. 23, but the U.S. international is at least two more weeks from returning. Roldan has four goals and five assists in MLS competitions this season.
“Even if [Obed] did come back in the next couple of weeks, he would still need some time to ramp up,” Schmetzer said. “Cristian is doing fine. His recovery has been good and for sure [he’s returning].”
For Bruin, the turnaround comes from putting in “the dirty work” no matter who’s on the field.
“This is a very confident team,” Bruin said. “Maybe that’s hurt us lately. If we get in the playoffs, teams are going to be [expletive] themselves seeing that they’ve got to play us. But we’ve got to get there.
“You can say on paper that we’re a great team, look at what we did earlier in this year. The reality, again, is look at where we are in the standings at this moment. We just have to focus on Houston and getting three points.”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.