Last week, the Seattle Sounders faced a team determined to pass them in the Major League Soccer standings.
Next, the Sounders will face a couple of clubs with different but maybe equally urgent incentives: climbing into the Western Conference playoffs.
On Wednesday, the Sounders will return to league play with a home match against San Jose, which is nine points behind Vancouver for the fifth and final conference playoff spot. Then on Sunday the Sounders visit the Portland Timbers, who are sixth in the West and just two points south of the Whitecaps.
“Motivations for those teams is whatever motivates them, and obviously that’s making the playoffs,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said Monday. “For us, what the motivation has to be is we have a chance to do a lot of special things this year, and we have to recommit ourselves and rededicate ourselves to do that. I think we are a committed team and I think we are dedicated to those goals, and we’ve got to realize that this can be a very special year. We’re in an Open Cup final, we’re in the hunt for the Supporters Shield, and then the playoffs loom at the end of the year.”
Seattle central defender Chad Marshall played with both kinds of incentives over his previous decade with the Columbus Crew, winning the Supporters Shield in 2008 and 2009 but missing the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.
“Having been on both sides, it’s definitely nicer to be on the top instead of scrambling at the end of the year to try to get points and get yourself into the playoff,” he said. “I just look at it game to game, so every game is a chance to get three points.”
With its 2-1 win over the Sounders last weekend, Real Salt Lake got the three points it needed to nudge past the Sounders and into first place in the West for the first time this season.
“They were just highly motivated,” Schmid said. “They played a good game. We ran into a couple of teams lately that have played their best or close to their best games against us. If it takes somebody’s best game to beat us, they’re not always going to be able to bring that best game every time, especially when rest and everything else is equal. It’s just a matter of us getting ready now for the task at hand.”
The Sounders are 1-3 over their past four MLS matches. However, they still lead the league with an average of 1.86 points per game and have two games in hand against the only teams ahead of them in the points table: RSL and Sporting Kansas City.
Both of those teams are idle Wednesday, so Seattle would move back atop the Supporters Shield standings with a win against the Earthquakes and would pull into a three-way tie at the top with a draw.
Forward Obafemi Martins will return to the team after sitting out the RSL game on red card suspension. Schmid indicated that midfielder Marco Pappa could return after missing the Salt Lake match with a hamstring. Midfielder Brad Evans remains questionable with a hamstring injury suffered in the first half of that game.
“When individuals play well, teams play well, and then we move forward from there,” Schmid said. “… We get the win on Wednesday and move ourselves back up on top.”