Sounders look for knockout

It’s a win-or-go-home scenario for both clubs when Seattle hosts the Colorado Rapids with a spot in the MLS semifinals on the line

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comOctober 30, 2013 

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday.

JOE NICHOLSON/USA TODAY SPORTS

When Seattle Sounders FC hosts the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday it’s a must-win game that actually lives up to that description.

“This is a must-win game for sure,” coach Sigi Schmid said Tuesday after Sounders training. “It’s like I said: During the season there’s not games like that until you get to a point where, OK, we’ve got to win to advance, we’ve got to win to move into the playoffs. Obviously, Wednesday’s is a must-win for both teams.”

There is no aggregate score. There is no second game. This is a knockout match that ends the season for the loser, while the winner goes on to meet the top-seeded Portland Timbers in a Major League Soccer Western Conference semifinal series.

The Sounders have never faced such a game in their four previous trips to the MLS Cup playoffs. However, they have played 21 loser-out matches in the U.S. Open Cup, surviving 19 times.

“Our team has had a good mentality in those games,” Schmid said. “It’s just something you know that you’ve got to give everything you have. There is no tomorrow. You have to play with that whole passion and commitment; but you also have to play with thought and intelligence at the same time.

“Sometimes we’ve struggled more when we’ve gone into a two-game series.

When it’s a one-off, we seem to have done all right.”

There is plenty of precedent in MLS for low-seeded teams turning things around in the playoffs. A No. 4 seed has reached the MLS Cup final in three of the past four seasons, and won it in 2009 and 2012. Last season, MLS Cup finalists the Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo both started their journey in the knockout round.

If the Sounders want details, they can ask midfielder Adam Moffat, who was part of that Dynamo run.

“We had to travel for our game and we still made it,” he said. “So it doesn’t matter. You look at teams like Salt Lake (in 2009), Colorado (in 2010), when they won: They all weren’t in the greatest positions. It really doesn’t matter. Once you get in there it’s all about producing your best; and if not, then you’re probably going to lose. We need to get back the form that we had a couple of months ago, and I feel like we could definitely win.”

Back then, Seattle was the hottest team in MLS, winning eight out of nine matches.

However, that collapsed into a seven-game winless streak that carried through the end of the regular season. And the ugliest result in that late tumble came Oct. 5 at Colorado: a 5-1 pounding that ranks among the worst losses in Sounders history.

“It’s motivation because everybody knows what the score line is, and everybody was embarrassed that night,” Schmid said. “So I think guys are motivated from that. And the other thing you take away is being alert; we (gave) up two goals in that game in the first 10-12 minutes of the game because we weren’t alert.”

That match started a four-game losing streak, which the Sounders finally stopped with a 1-1 draw against Los Angeles in the regular-season finale on Sunday.

On the other side, the Rapids were unable to build on their big win. They went 1-2 thereafter, conceding five goals combined over their season-ending home and road matches with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

“Their two-game series with Vancouver, they gave up some goals,” Schmid said. “But on the same token, they’re a team that’s come a long way from last year (when) they were a non-playoff team. We’ve got to be prepared for a team that’s very hungry and motivated.”

After all, it’s a must-win game.

3 keys to VICTORY

1. NO EARLY DEFICIT: The last time the clubs met, the Sounders trailed 1-0 after 15 seconds and 2-0 after 10 minutes. They remember, and don’t want a repeat.

2. DEMPSEY FACTOR: Before Clint Dempsey recorded his first goal with the Sounders last weekend, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said he’d be happy if the U.S. national team captain was holding them for the playoffs. It’s time for the league’s highest-paid player to break out.

3. MANAGE THE GAME: The Sounders’ ongoing seven-game winless streak includes three games in which they scored first but ended up settling for a draw. This knockout match demands a winner, and the home side doesn’t want to see its season decided on penalty kicks. SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

NO. 5 COLORADO RAPIDS (14-11-9; 51 POINTS) AT NO. 4 SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (15-12-7; 52)

7:30 p.m., CenturyLink Field

TV: Ch. 6/16, NBCSN. Radio: 97.3-FM.

Club leaders: Colorado: G—10, Deshorn Brown; A—7, Chris Klute; Sh—97, Brown; SOG—30, Brown; GAA—1.10, Clint Irwin. Seattle: G—9, Eddie Johnson; A—8, Mauro Rosales; Sh—61, Lamar Neagle; SOG—27, Johnson; GAA—1.27, Michael Gspurning.

Head to head: The Sounders lead the series 8-2-2 overall and 5-0-1 in Seattle. The teams went 1-1-1 in their three meetings this season, including a 1-1 draw in the match at CenturyLink Field. The Rapids won the most recent meeting, 5-1, on Oct. 5 at Colorado. This is the first time the teams have met in the playoffs.

Notes: The winner advances to the Western Conference semifinals. The season ends for the loser. ... If the game is tied at the end of regulation, there will be 30 minutes of added time. If the score remains even, the winner will be decided by penalty kicks. ... The Sounders ended the regular season with a seven-game winless streak (0-4-3). The Rapids were shut out in their final three road games. ... Seattle is one of three MLS teams to have made the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. Colorado is 11-17-6 all-time in the postseason but missed the playoffs in 2012. ... Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez is expected to return after sitting out last weekend. However, forward Obafemi Martins (groin) is doubtful. ... Colorado midfielder Dillon Powers (concussion) is doubtful. ... The referee is Silviu Petrescu.

Quotable: “It is going to be a tough game, but we need to go out and play hard. We need to fight for each other and not concede goals as easy. If we can keep a clean sheet, we have the quality up top to score goals and we should be able to get it done.” – Seattle designated player Clint Dempsey

Next: The winner opens a two-game aggregate-score Western Conference semifinal series at home against No. 1 Portland at 7 p.m. Saturday.

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

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