There wasn’t a drop of champagne in the Seattle Sounders FC locker room Sunday night. As naïve as it sounds, Brad Evans said they expected this.
He said they expected to make the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year, expected to go from ninth place in the Western Conference standings to an MLS playoff berth and expected to go from that midseason low to now preparing for a home playoff match.
“Does it feel any more special? No,” Evans said. “We expect to make the playoffs, no matter what.
“It feels good to overcome certain odds, of course. It feels good to silence those who left this what they would have called ‘sinking ship’ in the middle of the season. And we’ll happily have them at the stadium on Thursday night to root us on.”
The Sounders’ 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake on Sunday at CenturyLink field vaulted them to the No. 4 seed, securing a knockout playoff match at home against Sporting Kansas City at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Remember when Seattle was the ninth seed less than three months ago, firing coach Sigi Schmid and tabbing Brian Schmetzer as the interim coach?
“Not a lot of teams thought that we had it in us and counted us out,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, who scored the go-ahead goal in the 31st minute. “And at this point, I think people are a little bit worried about us.”
Seattle has gone 8-2-4 since Schmetzer took over on July 26 and had two chances to secure a playoff spot before finally doing so on Sunday.
The Sounders have done this without Clint Dempsey, who was ruled out for the season in late September because of an irregular heartbeat.
The sentiment now would lead to believe Schmetzer’s earned the opportunity to be rid of his interim tag.
“Of course, 100 percent,” Evans said, quickly and succinctly.
“For sure,” Jordan Morris said. “I 100 percent think he should get the job. He’s done a great job and he deserves it.
“Right now, the season isn’t over and we have to focus on that. But hopefully after we win the MLS Cup, he’ll be the head coach.”
Sunday began with uncertainty.
A loss could have ended their season if the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City had won. A win not only solved that, but also moved the Sounders ahead of Real Salt Lake for the No. 4 seed and the right to host a playoff match.
So Seattle (14-14-6) struck quick. Roldan’s beautiful back heel set up a Tyrone Mears-to-Jordan-Morris-to-Alvaro Fernandez goal in the third minute.
But, just as suddenly, Real Salt Lake tied it back up a minute later when Luke Mulholland got in front of the goal and scored on an assist from Olmes Garcia.
That turned gazes back toward matches in Kansas City and Vancouver, B.C., and the Sounders’ unlikely friends in the San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver Whitecaps.
But then Roldan, again.
On one of the Sounders’ seven first-half corner kicks, Roman Torres’ header was saved, but Roldan was in perfect position to bury the rebound to give Seattle a 2-1 lead in the 31st minute.
“The kid is great,” Schmetzer said. “That wasn’t his normal position (as an attacking midfielder) tonight and he showed he can still make an impact on games in that position.”
Almost simultaneously, Vancouver struck for its second goal and a 2-0 lead over Portland — in a match it would win 4-1 — and the Sounders were suddenly playing for playoff position rather than their playoff lives.
The Sounders held Real Salt Lake scoreless in the second half, capping the match when Stefan Frei dove into a pile to save a final desperation setup for RSL after three minutes of stoppage time.
Before the game, the Sounders honored Zach Scott with a gold scarf. He has said this is his final season.
“The resilience has been strong since I took over,” Schmetzer said. “No. 1, we needed to win for Zach Scott because of his service to this club. And then (Osvaldo Alonso) reminded me that we have a few more games to go.”
Schmetzer also gave partial credit to Schmid for the team’s run to the postseason.
“I am proud of what those guys accomplished and I’m hoping Sigi finds some bit of joy in this,” Schmetzer said. “I know it’s a tough situation, but this was part his team as well.
“The expectations of this club are to make the playoffs and win games and win championships. That’s the message these guys in here have heard from Day 1 and in person — from 2002 with me and ’09 with Sig and now. That’s what they hear. Not for undue pressure, not for undue press, but because we are a proud franchise.”
Schmetzer’s message to the team afterward was brief.
“Well, we gave Zach an autographed photo of all his years of service,” Schmetzer said. “And then I said, ‘We’re going to work tomorrow.’ ”
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MLS playoff schedule
Eastern Conference No. 6 seed Philadelphia Union at No. 3 Toronto FC, 4:30 p.m.
Western Conference No. 6 Real Salt Lake at No. 3 LA Galaxy, 7:30 p.m.
Eastern Conference No. 5 Montreal Impact at No. 4 D.C. United, 4:30 p.m.
Western Conference No. 5 Sporting Kansas City at No. 4 Seattle Sounders, 7 p.m.