Just as they did last season, Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders will conclude the regular season with a Sunday afternoon clash at CenturyLink Field with the greatest of stakes on the line: a spot in the 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
Locking up the four-seed
Currently sitting in fourth and fifth place respectively in the MLS Western Conference, RSL (46 points) and the Sounders (45 points) both control their playoff destiny and would finish with the four-seed in the West with a victory. A draw would also be enough for RSL to secure a playoff spot, although the squad could fall as far as the six-seed if both Sporting Kansas City (home versus San Jose Earthquakes) and the Portland Timbers (at Vancouver Whitecaps) win their respective matches A loss would force the Claret-and-Cobalt to rely on San Jose and Vancouver to deny victory to one or both of Kansas City and Portland.
Seattle, however, has less room for error. A draw would only give the Sounders a two-point cushion over Sporting and the Timbers (both on 44 points), meaning wins from both would leave Seattle on the outside looking in. A win is the only sure way for Brian Schmetzer’s men to guarantee their postseason participation.
Trending in opposite directions
A month and a half ago, Real Salt Lake was in the middle of a tight Supporters’ Shield race and looked like a surefire pick for the postseason, while Seattle, mired in mediocrity, was likely to miss the playoffs.
Since that time, the two teams have reversed their trends—a bad sign for an RSL team in the midst of a lengthy scoring drought. Since drawing the Los Angeles Galaxy at home on September 7—a 3-3 affair that saw a stoppage-time equalizer from striker Juan Manuel Martinez on the game’s final kick—RSL has managed only one goal in five games, a flukish goal by homegrown player Justen Glad that struck the crossbar before bouncing off the back of Quakes goalkeeper David Bingham and dribbling across the goal line. RSL lost three of those five games, with the other two ending in scoreless draws.
The Emerald City, meanwhile, has pulled 13 out of a possible 18 points from its last six matches, logging a four-game winning streak before drawing at Houston Dynamo and losing at FC Dallas after holding a one-goal lead late in the game. Seattle appeared to be consigned to the scrapheap back in July. The firing of Sigi Schmid on July 26 and the contemporaneous addition of Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro to the Sounders lineup have coincided with a superb run of form since that time and placed the Sounders on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.
The match will kickoff Sunday at 4:00 Eastern, televised by ESPN.