The Seattle Sounders could have clinched a playoff spot two weeks ago if three separate results had played out in a certain way.
The Sounders also could have gotten in Friday, if Sporting Kansas City had beaten the San Jose Earthquakes.
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That brings us to Sunday, one week before the end of the Major League Soccer regular season. And on this day, at least, the Sounders have no scoreboards to watch but their own. And the same is true for their host, the Houston Dynamo.
Regardless of other results, the Sounders qualify for their seventh consecutive postseason if they win. Meanwhile, the Dynamo is eliminated with a loss or a tie.
“We know it’s a playoff game for us as well,” coach Sigi Schmid said Saturday. “We’d rather lock up our getting into the playoff now rather than waiting another week.”
The Western Conference is so tightly packed that several results play out as neither clearly good news nor bad. That was the case with the ’Quakes-SKC match that opened the weekend. A Kansas City win would have eliminated San Jose and clinched the playoffs for Seattle. But that loss left SKC a stationary target at 48 points, just one ahead of Seattle for fourth place. Second and third place also remain mathematically in reach.
“It’s unbelievably tight this year,” Schmid said. “… It’s what the league wants — parity — they have parity. They have a lot of it. We said at the beginning of the year we thought the West was going to be tighter than the East, which has proven itself out. You just have a lot of good teams.”
The Sounders conclude their regular season Oct. 25, meeting Real Salt Lake at fully opened CenturyLink Field. Whether the two remaining matches produce zero, one, two, four or six points will determine whether Seattle gets a first-round bye, home field advantage for the knockout game, travels for the knockout game or misses the playoffs for the first time in club history.
“We’re fighting essentially relegation in my mind, with that red line,” captain Brad Evans said. “Not necessarily dropping down to another league, but saving ourselves the embarrassment of watching other teams in the playoffs, watching them from the outside in.”
With so many implications from so many results around the league, Schmid didn’t spend much time on whether the San Jose-Kansas City result was the best one for his club.
“There’s nothing we can do to change other results,” he said. “It gives us a unique opportunity to try to push ourselves up into a third- or fourth-place situation — possibly even a second depending on how things go. We’d definitely like to do that.”
There were at least two encouraging signs for the Sounders as they trained in Houston on Saturday afternoon.
One was the presence of central defender Chad Marshall, who missed one game with a neck sprain but appears ready to return.
The other was the weather. The temperature was in the low 80s but the humidity was in the high 20s, and there was a light breeze sweeping across the Dynamo training facility. Similar weather is expected for Sunday, and that’s about as good as it gets on a trip to Houston.
And it’s an upgrade from the sweltering one-two punch of heat and humidity that several Sounders said wilted them down the stretch on their 1-1 draw in Kansas City on Sept. 27.
“In Kansas it was hot and humid,” midfielder Marco Pappa said. “Houston can be the same. ... I hope we can have a good game in Houston. You know how important those points (can be) for us.”
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SUNDAY: Houston (11-13-8, 41 points) at Seattle (14-13-5, 47 points), 2 p.m., ESPN2
HOUSTON DYNAMO (11-13-8; 41 POINTS)
VS. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (14-13-5; 47 POINTS)
2 p.m., BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 770-AM.
Head to head: Seattle leads the regular season series, 5-3-2, but the Dynamo leads 3-0-1 in Houston. The visiting team has never won. The Sounders took the most recent match, 1-0, on April 4 with a goal from Obafemi Martins.
Notes: The Sounders clinch a playoff spot with a win. The Dynamo are eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or draw. … The Sounders are unbeaten in their last six (3-0-3). Houston had back-to-back wins before a 4-1 loss at Dallas on Oct. 3. … The Dynamo is 9-4-3 at home with a plus-9 goal differential. The Sounders have earned points in their last three road games. … Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei is two saves away from the club record of 110, set by Kasey Keller in 2011. … Will Bruin leads Houston with 11 goals. Brad Davis leads with nine assists. The Sounders are led by Obafemi Martins (14 goals) and Clint Dempsey (nine assists). … Dynamo midfielder Nathan Sturgis was an original Sounder, playing two seasons in Seattle after being acquired in the expansion draft. … Seattle right back Tyrone Mears played under Houston coach Owen Coyle at Burnley in England. … Seattle central defender Chad Marshall is expected to return after missing one game with a neck sprain. Designated player Nelson Valdez (calf) is out. Midfielder Marco Pappa and left back Oniel Fisher are doubtful with hamstring injuries. … Houston’s Raul Rodriguez is out because of red-card suspension. Seattle’s Brad Evans, Andy Rose and Fisher are one yellow away from suspension for accumulation. … The referee is Edvin Jurisevic.
Quote: “He’s doing fine. It’s just a situation where Fisher was doing all right so he stayed in there for a little bit. Leo (Gonzalez) came off his injury, so we wanted to give Leo a go. But Remick has, I think, turned a corner. He’s been training hard, and I think he’s ready to go.” — Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on left back Dylan Remick, who could start Sunday.
Next: The Sounders end their regular season at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 when Real Salt Lake visits CenturyLink Field, which will be open to full capacity.