Sounders FC

Who will Sounders play? We’ll see

If the MLS playoffs started today, Sounders FC would be paired against top-seeded Los Angeles.

However, this is merely the second-to-last day of the regular season, and much could change before the final whistle blows Sunday night at Los Angeles.

At the top, late-charging Real Salt Lake could catch or pass the Galaxy for the Supporters’ Shield, which goes annually to the team with the best record in MLS.

And closer to home, Seattle could climb as high as fifth place or drop as low as eighth in the playoff standings; and they could be paired with L.A., RSL, New York or Columbus.

Given the variety of possible results, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid figures the best strategy is simply to extend their ongoing hot streak through the regular-season finale today in Houston and into their postseason, which will begin Oct. 31.

“The most important thing going into the playoffs is that we are playing well, not so much the position that we end up in,” he said. “Certainly, San Jose (has) a chance of finishing ahead of us, and depending on what Dallas does, could drop us to fifth. Again third or fifth (in the Western Conference) are probably the two best positions to be in just because you have a chance of getting that next-round game at home if you advance. But for us, it’s most important that our rhythm is good and that we are healthy.”

The MLS playoff system has many of its potential participants scratching their heads. So, some brief explanations:

Seattle begins the final weekend two points behind fifth-seeded Dallas, so a Seattle win today combined with a Dallas loss Sunday at Los Angeles would allow the Sounders to hop past the Hoops.

However, San Jose is just two points behind Seattle and therefore could move ahead if the Sounders lose today and the Quakes win tonight at Kansas City. A Seattle draw and Earthquakes win would give both teams 49 points. They are even in the first tiebreaker: head-to-head competition. Seattle currently leads the second – goal differential – by one. However, that advantage would disappear in the relevant scenario of a Seattle draw and San Jose win. And if the Quakes win by more than a goal, that tiebreaker turns in their favor.

Tie-breaking also would be needed if the combination was a Seattle loss and Colorado win tonight against RSL. That would give both clubs 48 points, and they would be even in head-to-head games. However, Colorado has an unbreakable grip on goal differential.

However, the MLS seeding procedure could make a drop of one or two positions advantageous. If the Sounders finish fifth or sixth, they would open the playoffs against the team with the best or second-best record in MLS (Los Angeles or Salt Lake). If they drop to seventh or eighth, they would move into the Eastern Conference bracket and be paired against teams currently holding the league’s third- or fifth-best records: New York or Columbus.

Given all the possibilities, the Sounders want to stick with the basics.

“It’s a case where we just go to Houston to win, just stay on a roll,” second-year midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “We’re confident we could play anybody. There are some teams that maybe are better matchups. But at the end of the day, everybody’s going to bring it in the playoffs, so we’ve just got to be prepared.”

Zakuani also is involved in one major statistical race yet to be determined. He goes into the final game tied with Fredy Montero for the team lead in goals scored. And because Montero must sit out this game because of yellow-card accumulation, Zakuani is assured of being the team’s top goal-scorer if he knocks one in today.

However, he said that doesn’t matter.

“Not at all,” Zakuani said. “I’ve always said he is our goal-scorer, and I don’t think that’s changed. ... I’ve been happy with the goals I’ve scored this year. If I get 11 or 12 or whatever, I’d be happy.”

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808

SOUNDERS FC (14-9-6; 48 points) AT HOUSTON DYNAMO (8-15-6; 30)

1 p.m.; Robertson Stadium, Houston.

TV: KING 5. RADIO: 97.3 FM (1210 AM in Spanish).

HEAD TO HEAD: Seattle leads 2-1-1, including a 2-0 win at Qwest Field on Aug. 8.

TEAM LEADERS: For Seattle – G 10, Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani; A 10, Montero; S 91, Montero; SOG 34, Montero; GAA 1.12, Kasey Keller. For Houston – G 7, Brian Ching; A 10, Brad Davis; S 53, Davis; SOG 22, Davis; GAA 1.74, Pat Onstad.

SIGI SCHMID ON THE MATCH: “Our minds are focused on having a good rhythm coming out of that game, making sure that we get ready for the playoffs, come out with no injuries, no red cards and move ourselves forward into the playoffs, whoever that opponent might be.”

NOTES: This is the final game of the regular season. The Sounders can finish from fifth to eight in playoff standings. Houston cannot qualify. ... Seattle is on a club-record five-game MLS winning streak, which matches Real Salt Lake for the longest winning run this season. ... Houston has gone 1-4-3 over its last eight home games, but 2-1-1 over its last four overall, including a 1-0 win at San Jose last weekend. ... This is the Sounders’ first visit to Robertson Stadium since the 1-0 extra-time loss that eliminated them from the 2009 playoffs. ... Ching leads the Dynamo in goals despite being sixth in shots (22) and shots on goal (9). ... Montero is out because of a yellow-card suspension. ... Seattle has called up goalkeeper Alex Horwath to replace injured No. 2 keeper Terry Boss. Houston goalkeeper Tyler Deric got a shutout in his professional debut last week. He is the first player from the Dynamo academy to start with the MLS club. Houston’s usual top two keepers were out with injuries: Onstad, hand; Tally Hall of Gig Harbor, ankle. ... Zakuani is scheduled to wear pink boots in honor of breast-cancer awareness.

NEXT: Seattle opens MLS Cup playoffs at 5 p.m. Oct. 31 at Qwest Field vs. an opponent to be determined.

Don Ruiz, staff writer