Seattle coach Sigi Schmid doesn’t believe there is such thing as a team with nothing to play for.
Some people might point to the Sounders’ Saturday opponent, FC Dallas, which has two games left in a regular season that no longer includes any hope of extending into the postseason. But Schmid doesn’t see it that way.
“Guys are playing for jobs,” he said. “When a team doesn’t make the playoffs, players are going to know that there are changes probably coming down the line, so everybody’s motivated to go out there and play. It doesn’t make the game any easier.”
That isn’t good news for the Sounders, who still have plenty of conventional goals at stake: playoff qualification, playoff seeding, the Western Conference title and even the Supporters’ Shield.
The Sounders’ three-game losing streak and five-game winless streak has dropped them into a tie for third place in the Western Conference, and they no longer have the advantage of games in hand. They still could end the season with 57 points, which no one in Major League Soccer is likely to beat.
The more immediate goal is wrapping up a spot in the playoffs, which could happen Saturday in a variety of ways. The most straightforward way would be by beating FC Dallas, assuring a playoff spot regardless of other results.
If the Sounders draw, they would still get in if Colorado loses or ties with Vancouver on Saturday, or if San Jose loses or ties at Los Angeles on Sunday.
If the Sounders lose, they would still clinch if Colorado and L.A. both win.
“We’re still in control of our own destiny,” team goals leader Eddie Johnson said. “This is what it’s like to be a part of the biggest franchise in the league. There’s pressure, there’s expectations, but at the end of the day we’re two points away from first place, and in a perfect world winning both games puts us in position to win the Supporters’ Shield. But the most important thing is we can’t panic as a team and an organization.”
Whether Johnson will be on the field to help influence the outcome was one of several personnel uncertainties that lingered as the Sounders flew to Texas. Schmid took an extra-large travel party due to the day-to-day status of Johnson (sports hernia), Clint Dempsey (hamstring, shoulder) and Obafemi Martins (groin).
The coach also did not tip his hand regarding his starting goalkeeper, after reserve Marcus Hahnemann replaced previous starter Michael Gspurning in a 1-0 loss at the Portland Timbers on Sunday.
However, Schmid feels there is at least as much uncertainty regarding the Dallas lineup — largely because the Hoops know their offseason is only two games away.
“If they have some guys who have some nagging injuries — who are important players to them, like a George John — they might shut them down,” Schmid said. “But outside of that, you don’t know who’s carrying little aches. And you don’t know who they’re trying to make decisions on. As a coach you’re going to throw some players out there who you’re trying to make some final decisions on.”
Even at that, Schmid figures Dallas will come out as the looser team.
But Johnson said champions depend on physical talent combined with mental toughness, and it is time for the Sounders to assert themselves in both areas.
“This is why we’re here,” he said. “Not only for the good times and winning games, (but for) the difficult times too; not only when things are going good, but when things are going bad. We’ve got to show as a team the quality we have within this dressing room, and go out there and embrace it on the field.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (15-11-6; 51 POINTS) AT FC DALLAS (10-11-11; 41)
11:30 a.m., Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
TV: Ch. 5. Radio: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
Head to head: The Sounders lead 6-1-4 overall and 2-0-3 at Dallas. Seattle is on a six-game unbeaten run (5-0-1) in the series, including home wins of 4-2 and 3-0 this season.
Notes: Seattle will clinch a playoff spot with a win. The Sounders also would get in with a draw if Colorado loses or ties with Vancouver on Saturday or San Jose loses or ties with Los Angeles on Sunday. Seattle also could get in regardless of result if Colorado and L.A. win. ... The Sounders have qualified while on the road in each of their first four seasons. ... Dallas is assured of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. ... Seattle (0-3-2) and Dallas (0-4-1) are on five-game winless streaks. ... Midfielder Brad Evans is back with the Sounders after U.S. national team duty, and Dallas goals leader Blas Perez is back from duty with Panama. ... Dallas averages 15,396 fans per home game. That’s 14th in the 19-team league, but it’s also on pace for the club single-season attendance record. The Hoops are 8-3-5 at home. The Sounders are 5-9-2 on the road. ... Dallas defender George John, a former Washington Husky, is out with a knee strain. Seattle lists Steve Zakuani and Shalrie Joseph as out, and Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Djimi Traore as questionable. ... Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is out due to red-card suspension. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Adam Moffat and Djimi Traore are one caution away from yellow-card suspension. ... The referee is Ismail Elfath.
Quotable: “They’ll definitely come out looser; a little more relaxed, and also full of fight because A, they’re a little upset that they didn’t make the playoffs; and B, because they know they’re also playing for jobs.” – Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on FC Dallas.
Next: The Sounders conclude the MLS regular season at 6 p.m. Oct. 27 when Los Angeles visits CenturyLink Field.