The Seattle Sounders play the Vancouver Whitecaps in British Columbia Sunday evening. They’re coming off a big win this week that earned them the sixth and final playoff spot for Major League Soccer’s Western Conference with just four regular season games left to play.
It’s the topic of this week’s conversation between knkx sports commentator Art Thiel and 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick.
Better Late Than Never
"This was the first time all season that the Sounders are in the mix for the sixth playoff spot," Thiel said. "If the playoffs were held today, the Sounders would be in.
"It's been such a struggle for these guys to get where they've gotten because of various injuries and international call-ups and the coaching change.
"The Sounders fired their veteran coach — the only coach they've known in their MLS history — Sigi Schmid and replaced him with his assistant Brian Schmetzer.
"But since that's happened, the Sounders have won six, lost one and tied three. They're just about the hottest club in the MLS. It's altogether remarkable, given all the turmoil and change.
"They have to maintain this. They have four games left. The Vancouver game ... is going to be large. All of them will be, because their spot is not assured. But they are playing much better than they were earlier in the year."
New Coach, Big Impact
"The coaching change tends to be almost an automatic boost in most sports most of the time because it's just different," Thiel continued.
"But I do think Schmetzer has a good relationship with most of the players. Sigi was wearing thin with people like Brad Evans and certainly with Clint Dempsey. So, I think that has been a positive."
New Acquisition Is Really Clicking
"The other thing is the acquisition of Nicolas Lodeiro, the midfielder who is just distributing the ball in a way that no one has ever done it for the Sounders before. He and Ozzie Alonso in the midfield are just dynamite. So, it's really worked out well to give a boost.
"And it seems like Lodeiro is playing very well with rookie Jordan Morris, the star from Mercer Island who is really starting to dominate up front. He's got as many goals as any rookie in MLS history in the first year.
"So, Lodeiro has been a big addition. And they seem to be coming together at just the right time."
No Dempsey, No Problem?
The team announced this week that Clint Dempsey would not play the rest of the season due to treatment for an irregular heartbeat. Thiel said Dempsey's playing future after this season is uncertain.
"He did have a procedure done. They won't say what the procedure was to try to control the heartbeat. But the upshot was they decided that, even after seeing him in practice again, that it wasn't worth the risk the rest of this season.
"We don't know what's going to happen in 2017. I don't think Clint or the doctors know. But they'll assess in the offseason. He does have one more year in his contract.
"But right now they're playing better without him. I know the Sounders don't like to say that but it's the truth.
"A lot of times when you have, in any sport, a superstar who demands to be the center of the action, it kind of warps things.
"I'm not saying that Dempsey was a ball hog or anything like that but I think the relationships change and the priorities change when the superstar goes out. Sometimes it's bad. Sometimes it can work out. It's really working out for the Sounders now.
"They have a real chance to be in the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, which is an ongoing MLS record. All of this change is happening at the perfect time for a playoff bid."