As the Sounders approach their final three matches of the regular season, coach Brian Schmetzer is clear about his messaging.
“It’s money time,” Schmetzer said during his weekly video-conference call with media Friday.
The Sounders (10-5-4) play three matches in eight days, beginning with Sunday’s road match against the Colorado Rapids (5-6-4) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.
The Sounders lead Major League Soccer’s Western Conference standings.
MLS announced Thursday that playoff seeding and qualification will be determined by a points-per-game system due to the inability to reschedule multiple matches after coronavirus outbreaks. That gives the Sounders a chance to win the Supporters’ Shield, conference title and boast the Golden Boot player. The top finisher in MLS locks in homefield advantage throughout the postseason and has an automatic berth to the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
The Philadelphia Union (13-3-5) is the leader and has two games remaining on its schedule. Many will note if the Union loses those matches — which is the only path for the Sounders to take the top seed in the playoffs if they win out — the Sounders had an advantage by playing one less game.
The Sounders’ Oct. 14 match against the Rapids was canceled due to multiple positive tests for COVID-19 within Colorado’s club. MLS canceled five Colorado matches. With the Rapids playing only 15 games, the disparity prompted the league to alter its qualification rules.
Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz is third in the race for the Golden Boot, which is given to the league’s top goal scorer. Ruidiaz has 10, while Los Angeles FC forward Diego Rossi leads with 13.
“Put an asterisk on it and let’s move on,” Schmetzer said of any controversy in the way MLS determines its playoff teams and regular-season award winners. “It’s out of our hands. I can’t beat my head against the wall and say, ‘OK, should Colorado have been penalized?’ That’s just not my job. It’s unfair in some ways, but it may catch up to them because they missed five games, they weren’t able to train and they weren’t playing consistently.”
Colorado had won three of its last four matches before the outbreak. The Rapids have lost both of their matches since returning after the month-long recovery.
Colorado is in the eighth and final Western Conference playoff slot with 1.27 points per game.
“Now they’re struggling to kind of regain momentum and footing,” Schmetzer said. “They (Rapids) might not win any of the rest of their games. So, who’s to say it’s unfair for each different club? Each different club has a different obstacle to overcome.”
The Sounders dealt with minor injuries and the absence of three starters for four matches due to international call-ups and quarantines upon return. That includes Ruidiaz, who tested positive for COVID-19 while with his Peru national team.
Ruidiaz, 30, was diagnosed as asymptomatic, meaning he had the virus but no symptoms. Ruidiaz scored a goal and had an assist to help shut out Vancouver in the Sounders’ last outing on Tuesday.
Joevin Jones (ankle), Brad Smith (hamstring), Will Bruin (unspecified) and Danny Leyva (foot) recently rejoined training after injury. And the club received a boost Friday when the players were given their 2019 MLS Cup championship rings.
Schmetzer said co-captain Nico Lodeiro made a speech afterward, telling his teammates to use it as motivation to get another.
“It’s 2020,” Schmetzer said. “I would love to just be effusive and come with this, ‘You know, we’re going to do this and this is going to happen and we are in such a good spot and things are going great in the Sounders world.’ But it’s 2020, so we are cautiously optimistic that things are going our way. I like the way the team has overcome (some adversity).”