By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — A season that began with a training session on Jan. 21 is on the line tonight when the Seattle Sounders play host to the Colorado Rapids in 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, whatever. Obviously, (today) is a must-win for both teams.”
There is no aggregate score. There is no second game. This is a knockout match where the season ends for the loser, while the winner goes on to meet the top-seeded Portland Timbers in a MLS 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 Los Angeles and Houston 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, because 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 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.