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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Analysis: With playoff chances nearly dead, Sounders should turn attention to future

Alex Roldan high-fives Yeimar Gomez during a Seattle Sounders match at Portland on Aug. 26.  (Blake Benard/Tribune News Service)
By Jayda Evans Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The fact that the Sounders are still alive in the playoff hunt could be harmful to the club’s future.

While a record 13 consecutive MLS playoff berths will likely end this year, the slim playoff chances will keep coach Brian Schmetzer and his staff from following a pattern most do when the season is on a respirator – give the young, inexperienced players needed minutes in quality matches.

The Sounders are five points behind Minnesota for the final slot in the Western Conference after Seattle’s 1-1 draw against FC Cincinnati on Tuesday. Each team in the West has two remaining matches, with the Sounders playing Sporting Kansas City on the road Sunday and hosting San Jose on Oct. 9 at Lumen Field.

While Minnesota has the seventh spot, Los Angeles and Portland are only one point above the Loons, theoretically making the final three slots in the West available. For the Sounders to have a chance to advance, they’d have to win their final two games, which would earn them six points.

If Seattle (12-16-4) were to secure the six points for 46 total points, there are scenarios in which it, Portland and Real Salt Lake could be in a three-way tie. The Sounders and Real would advance on the first tiebreaker, which is the total number of wins per match. LA would be the third berth.

Real plays Portland and LA to finish their season. Losing both – thus closing the season on a four-game losing streak – advances the Timbers and Galaxy. If then Minnesota loses its two matches to San Jose and Vancouver, Seattle would slide into the final spot with 46 points.

The most convoluted outcome is if Real splits its remaining games, the win being against LA, and Vancouver wins its pair of matches, including against Minnesota. Then, Real, LA, Vancouver and Seattle would all be tied with 46 points. The Sounders and Galaxy would take the final two spots using the first tiebreaker. But if Minnesota were to win against San Jose, it would have 48 points and the tiebreaker would be decided on goal differential between LA and Seattle. As of Wednesday, LA would advance.

Each scenario seems far-fetched, the most remote being that the Sounders can pull off two must-wins. The past two matches were crucial to avoid this situation and the Sounders lost to Vancouver and drew against Cincinnati.

It would benefit the club more if it kept the pressure on the deep reserves, who performed well in a pressure-filled match Tuesday. Sounders midfielder Ethan Dobbelaere, who hasn’t made a first-team appearance since July, lined up at right wingback. Although the 19-year-old was unsuccessful in his duels, he connected on passes that led to near chances in the box.

Josh Atencio, 20, and Danny Leyva, 19, are finding a groove in facing different types of playing styles in the center midfield. Backup center back Jackson Ragen, 24, continues to grow while AB Cissoko, 22, made a bad decision that led to FCC’s only goal, an opportunity to respond with a second start is a better gamble than looking for three teams to flub their final matches of the season so the Sounders can sneak into the playoffs.

“Some young guys really stepped up and said, ‘You know what, coach? Look at me,’ ” Schmetzer said after the draw. “It makes my job tougher because that group of players right there played extremely well in my opinion.

“Some of the soccer, maybe tactically, technically there were some breakdowns. But you can’t fault those (young players) for that effort. You can’t fault anybody on that field for the effort. Overall, it was a good performance. Unlucky that we didn’t get three (points).”

Schmetzer pulled his first-choice players from the lineup in May when a midweek U.S. Open Cup match followed the CONCACAF Champions League tournament win. The conglomeration of youth, veterans and late subs to put some internationals in the match took the game to a draw, losing in a penalty-kick shootout.

SKC (10-15-7) is eliminated from playoff contention. Kansas City is a key reason why Seattle has a chance because its current six-game unbeaten streak includes wins against Minnesota and Portland and a draw against LA.

The Sounders probably have too much collective pride to not select the internationals for the upcoming road match. Raul Ruidiaz (Peru) is questionable after suffering an apparent leg injury in a friendly Tuesday. Jordan Morris (U.S.), Nouhou (Cameroon), Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador), and Alex Roldan (El Salvador) are expected to be at training this week. Co-captain Nico Lodeiro is also available after a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.

The probability of them not starting Sunday is likely equal to the probability the Sounders will advance to the postseason. The sure bet is if the young players got the nod to pull off a must-win, that would benefit the Sounders moving forward.