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Sounders hope to begin playoff push against Real Salt Lake

Seattle Times

SEATTLE – If the Sounders are to pull themselves out of the nether reaches of the Western Conference and truly make a push for an eighth consecutive postseason berth, they will find few stretches of the schedule as promising as this upcoming run of games.

Unbeaten in two matches since parting ways with longtime coach Sigi Schmid and signing Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle hosts consecutive home games before heading to last-place Houston later this month.

The Sounders sit eight points out of the playoff qualification spots with 12 matches to play – but they face rival Portland, the team they’re chasing, both home and away in the coming weeks.

There is a sense of a train belatedly gathering momentum, a downhill descent on the horizon if only it can will itself around the next bend.

“I know this is tiring to hear,” veteran forward Herculez Gomez said with foresight last month, “but games in hand, we go on a little run, and that’s been known to happen in MLS, it’s a much different tune.

“Three games is all it takes in this league – to build a run, to build momentum, to get your fan base believing and to get yourself going. That’s all it takes.”

If Seattle is going to rip off a winning streak, well, this would be the time to do it.

First on the docket is a Real Salt Lake team that has come a long way since it visited CenturyLink Field having already been eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of last season.

RSL enters the weekend sitting comfortably in third place in the Western Conference, 13 points ahead of Seattle.

Games between these teams are often heavy on dramatics and goals.

No league match between Seattle and RSL has produced fewer than two combined goals since 2012.

“I think you’ll find that, for the soccer purists, that it’s an exciting match,” interim Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said Friday. “Which team can dictate possession at key moments? Which team can possess the ball with a little purpose, dragging the team to this area of the field then finding the two passes that get us in? I think it’ll be an interesting match in that sense, because they have some very dangerous players.”

RSL still has remnants of the core that won the MLS Cup in 2009 and finished as runners-up four years later. Nick Rimando still stands sentinel between the posts, and Kyle Beckerman still rocks his trademark head of dreadlocks. Its attacking core is as dynamic as it’s been in recent seasons, with Designated Players Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez and Joao Plata providing support to talented new signing Yura Movsisyan.

The hysteria of rivalry week awaits on the other side of Sunday, but the stakes could be drastically different depending on the RSL result.

Those three consecutive wins that could change the tune of this season are dependent on taking care of business at home against a less hated but familiar foe.

“I try to answer things honestly but with some context. I don’t like saying it in these terms, but every single game is so important to us,” Schmetzer said. “It’s not the two grouped together. It’s not the road game after that.

“We take, literally, every single game so seriously that I don’t even know who we’re playing next week. I’m kidding, but we are so focused on RSL and getting that group of guys correct. After that game, it gets pushed aside and we’re going to prepare for our archrivals.”

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