By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
The Seattle Sounders have ridden a six-game winless streak straight into the MLS playoffs.
The Sounders lost their fourth consecutive game Saturday at Dallas, yet they qualified the next day when San Jose was eliminated.
Those conflicting circumstances were reflected through conflicting emotions Tuesday as the team returned to practice for its final regular-season game Sunday, when the Los Angeles Galaxy visits CenturyLink Field.
“Obviously, I would have rathered us win … that kind of makes it a little bit more special,” goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann said. “But the fact is the results throughout the season have indicated that we’re in the playoffs.”
Coach Sigi Schmid opened his Tuesday media session by stressing that latter point — even before the first question was asked.
“I’d rather be in the playoffs than be in San Jose’s shoes, where they win a lot of games at the end and don’t make the playoffs,” he said. “… We got our points in the middle of the season. We didn’t start off well early. We haven’t so far finished well. But at the end of the day we got enough points to get into the playoffs.”
And with that primary goal accomplished, Schmid indicated there are limits to how far he will go this weekend in trying to improve playoff seeding.
“We don’t want to put anybody out there on the field that by playing them on Sunday it’s going to severely hurt their chances to be able to play in the next game,” he said. “So we’re going to put guys out there that are healthy.”
Everything from first to fifth in the Western Conference is possible for the Sounders as this final week of the MLS season opens today with Chivas USA visiting No. 2 Real Salt Lake. However, Seattle must beat the Galaxy on Sunday in order to avoid the single play-in game between the fourth- and fifth-place finishers at the middle of next week.
Schmid admits that would be an advantage, but he also points to the league’s history of low seeds advancing to MLS Cup.
“Once you enter the playoffs it’s a cup competition, which means every dog can have their day,” he said. “… Very rarely does the team that wins Supporters Shield win in the playoffs.”
General manager Adrian Hanauer said playoff qualification isn’t a cause for celebration, but rather a marker the club must pass on its way toward goals worth celebrating.
“For us, it’s kind of a minimum standard,” he said. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been a successful season. I think it means it hasn’t been a failure of a season. But we want to win trophies, and you don’t get a trophy for making the playoffs.”
Majority owner Joe Roth told Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl that Schmid isn’t to blame for the Sounders’ ongoing slump. “This guy is the winningest coach in MLS history,” Roth is quoted as saying. “I don’t think he’s at fault.”
Schmid was asked about the comment.
“I didn’t even know about that until somebody told me (on Monday),” he said. “I try not to look at a lot of that stuff.”
Hanauer agreed with Roth’s assessment. However, he indicated it shouldn’t been taken as a commitment that Schmid will be brought back for a sixth season in 2014.
“Owners are emotional, things change — it’s reality,” Hanauer said. “But I do agree with Joe. If we’re placing blame, there’s plenty to go around, from (the owners on) down the list. And everybody can do a little bit better. And again, in the offseason, that’s our job: to figure out where we can optimize and tweak and get better and hopefully avoid some of the inconsistencies. That’s a word that I think is appropriate for this season, is it has been inconsistent.”
Schmid said he won’t announce until Sunday whether Hahnemann or Michael Gspurning will start against the Galaxy. Schmid said injured players Djimi Traore, Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins are “better,” but didn’t declare anyone in or out for Sunday.