TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) — The idea may be unsettling to Seattle Sounders fans, but with less than a month left in the regular season the priority for the playoff-bound Sounders is to avoid the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and not the Cascadia Cup.
Fortunately for Seattle fans, a win over rival Portland on Sunday would go a long way toward getting out of being the fourth-seed and the extra game that comes with it. It also keeps alive Seattle's hopes of retaining the trophy that goes to the winner of the Northwest rivalry involving the Sounders, Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Three points against the Timbers, in front of an expected crowd of 66,000 and one of the largest in MLS history, could have massive influence on how the next few weeks play out for the Sounders.
"We talked a number of weeks ago we set some goals for ourselves and one of those was to have that No. 2 spot in the west," Seattle midfielder Brad Evans said. "That's still within our grasp and something that we really want. If we can eliminate that playoff game that will benefit us in the long run."
Seattle has already assured itself of a playoff berth, but by sitting in fourth place in the conference standings leaves itself in the uncomfortable position of facing an extra game when the playoffs arrive. As part of the playoff restructuring the Nos. 4 and 5 teams in each conference have a one-game playoff with the winner advancing to face the No. 1 seed in the conference semifinals.
As it stands now, Seattle would face Vancouver in the one-game playoff, before having to face likely Supporters' Shield winner San Jose.
That is not the scenario Seattle wants to face. But the Sounders do have one more game than any other Western Conference team and matches against Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles — the two teams directly in front of Seattle — still to be played.
Seattle won last year's Cascadia Cup, bu needs help to retain the title. Portland currently leads with eight points in the competition between the three Northwest squads, with Seattle second with six points and Vancouver in third. To keep the title, Seattle needs a victory over Portland and the Whitecaps to beat or tie the Timbers this month in Vancouver.
A draw by the Timbers on Sunday will give them the Cascadia title in an otherwise dreary season in Portland.
"It certainly helps us and keeps us in a rhythm of playing important games, so we can't relax and have an easy game," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. "Every game is going to be a game that's going to require concentration and attention from the team, which is good because it keeps you sharp going into the playoffs."
Only one other stand-alone MLS match has drawn more than 67,000 fans in league history. Los Angeles drew 69,255 for the first game in league history in 1996 and the Galaxy and New York played before 66,237 at Giants Stadium in 2007.
The league has seen larger crowds for doubleheaders featuring international clubs, but in terms of stand-alone matches Seattle will own two of the top four marks in league history after Sunday night.
"We've kind of become accustomed to having 3 or 4 games per year that were almost sellouts," Evans said. "Just a great opportunity. Like last year and games prior when we've had so many people, we've played well. For us this is a massive game once again. We're playing for a playoff spot and this will be a big one."