All three seasons Seattle Sounders FC has spent in Major League Soccer have ended the same way: The club has qualified for the playoffs and then been eliminated in the first round.
Now, the Sounders have qualified a fourth time. And on Wednesday, coach Sigi Schmid and general manager Adrian Hanauer were careful not to add unnecessary pressure before the club opens its two-game aggregate-score series against Real Salt Lake on Friday at CenturyLink Field.
“You certainly want to advance in the playoffs,” Schmid said. “But, like I say, there are a lot of other clubs that haven’t done that. So, we’re holding ourselves to a higher standard, which is what we’ve wanted to do from Day One. We want to advance in the playoffs – let me say that. … But sometimes I also feel there’s this thing of, ‘Well, without that we’re not a good team.’ I don’t think that’s entirely an accurate statement either.”
In the expansion season of 2009, Seattle had the lower seeding against Houston and was eliminated by an aggregate 1-0 score in a series decided in extra time.
The next season, the Sounders were the lower seed against Los Angeles and this time lost the home and road legs on the way to a 3-1 aggregate-score elimination.
Last season, Seattle earned the higher seeding against RSL, but lost the opening leg 3-0 and couldn’t quite catch up at home, falling by an aggregate 3-2.
“We’ve shown ourselves to be a consistently good team, and we’ll continue to do that,” Schmid said. “But yes, we need to win a playoff series, we need to move on. That’s our next goal; that’s our next stage of evolution.”
The Sounders once again go in as the lower-seeded team, and therefore face the less advantageous position of playing the deciding game on the road.
If they are eliminated again, that will be one factor the front office will consider when deciding how to rework its roster in advance of the 2013 season.
However, neither Schmid nor Hanauer indicated that they see these playoffs as the primary trigger for roster decisions over the offseason.
“We will for sure try to improve our team – MLS Cup or non-playoff win,” Hanauer said. “I think that you have to factor it in. But I don’t want to tie myself. We might play the best playoff series ever and lose, or we might play mediocre through the playoffs and win an MLS Cup. I want to make sure I’m balancing the result with the quality. Certainly, if these playoffs don’t go well for us, we will take that into account and try to figure out what’s going to change that in the future.”
Added Schmid: “You have to know why you win; you have to know why you lose. If you get knocked out, does that mean you should blow it up? Or winning it, does that mean you should blow it up because maybe this was the last hurrah? That’s something that you sit down after and you evaluate. … But right now our focus is not on that. Our focus is on Salt Lake on Friday.”
The Sounders announced ticket sales of 30,500 two days ahead of the playoff opener. The club is using a CenturyLink lower-bowl configuration with a capacity of around 35,000. … Asked to review the club’s third MLS regular season, Hanauer called it “a very solid year.” … Midfielder Steve Zakuani will headline a free music event at 8 p.m. today at the Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle. The event is open to those 21 and older. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Zakuani’s non-profit Kingdom of Hope. Details: kingdom-hope.org. … Eddie Johnson did not practice again Wednesday, although Schmid called his progress “OK.” The club also clarified that the injury, which was initially called a hamstring issue, is actually an adductor strain.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org