For the Sounders, regular-season finale has massive playoff implications

Sounders midfielder Alex Roldan (right) passes the ball in front of L.A. Galaxy defender Emiliano Insua (center) and forward Cristian Pavon during the first half of Wednesday’s match in Carson, Calif.

SEATTLE — An unprecedented Major League Soccer season held on to one familiarity — a drama-filled Decision Day.

The league historically schedules all of its final regular-season games on the same day, often kicking off at the same time across the nation, maximizing scoreboard watching of results that have playoff implications. Whether because of or despite the coronavirus pandemic, today’s Decision Day is no different.

The Sounders enter their finale against the San Jose Earthquakes at CenturyLink Field with the possibility of finishing first or, at worst, fourth in the Western Conference standings. A win against San Jose combined with a Sporting Kansas City draw or loss against Real Salt Lake and Portland tying or losing to Los Angeles FC clinches the West for Seattle (10-5-6).

MLS is using points per game to determine standings.

“The games leading to the first playoff game are extremely important because it kind of propels us into that mindset that we’re going to make another run for (the) MLS Cup,” Sounders midfielder Alex Roldan said after the team’s tie Wednesday against the Los Angeles Galaxy. “We’ve still got another game left that can set us up for that mentality. We’re looking forward to Sunday and turning it around to get some points.”

The Sounders, who are making their league-leading 12th consecutive playoff appearance, are guaranteed home-field advantage in the opening round with any of the top four spots in the standings.

The match is the Sounders’ fourth of the season against the Quakes, although the July matchup was part of the MLS is Back tournament in Florida. The only resounding result was Seattle’s 7-1 win at CenturyLink in September. The other two finished in scoreless draws.

The Quakes (8-8-6) enter the match amped after earning the team’s first postseason berth in three years with a 3-1 win Wednesday against LAFC. Striker Chris Wondolowski, the league’s all-time leading goal scorer, pushed his career total to 166 with a score in the win.

San Jose, which plays a unique man-marking style, is unbeaten in four of its past five matches, including a scoreless tie against Seattle in October.

But the Sounders are on a 12-game unbeaten streak against the Quakes, which currently are the eighth and final seed in the West.

“Matias Almeyda should be in consideration for coach of the year,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of his San Jose counterpart during a video conference Friday. “After that rough patch where we scored a bunch of goals on them and they had a number of other tough results, everybody said San Jose is done, they’re going to fire their coach. They were dead.

“(Almeyda), true to his own self, true to his beliefs, his playing style, got that team to refocus, regroup and come back and make the playoffs, which is a tremendous story. A tremendous success.”

Schmetzer expects the Sounders to give San Jose an unhappy regular-season finish. The defending MLS Cup champions haven’t flexed on opponents as they would like to end the schedule.

The Sounders will have their healthiest roster available as left back Brad Smith (adductor strain) and Roman Torres (illness) returned to training and first-choice starters like defender Kelvin Leerdam, forward Jordan Morris and midfielder Cristian Roldan were rested this week. There’s even comfort that young players such as Ethan Dobbelaere and Shandon Hopeau played well in their brief appearances this season, creating more depth for a playoff run.

The Sounders still could be without midfielder Miguel Ibarra, who left the team last week due to a personal issue. Schmetzer would not give any details about the situation or timetable for return. Ibarra started three of his 12 appearances this season, totaling 248 minutes.

“The playoffs are now. (Today) is a playoff game,” Schmetzer said. “The odds are against us because MLS is a league that wants parity. But if you look at the Seattle Sounders, we’ve been in three of the last four championship games. We’ve won two of them and there’s no reason to say why we can’t go and even in a year full of challenges, defend our title. Count San Jose and it’s five games left in the year. So, why not us?”

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