AUSTIN (KXAN) — Is Saturday the day Austin FC gets it right and clinches a playoff spot?
They’ve had shots to seal a postseason bid the past two games, but losses to Nashville SC and Portland have kept the party for the franchise’s first-ever playoff bid on hold.
The attention now turns to the Seattle Sounders. The match begins at 7:30 p.m. Central time at Lumen Field in Seattle, and with a win, Verde is in the playoffs.
The Sounders won the CONCACAF Champions League in May with a 5-2 aggregate win over Pumas UNAM of Liga MX, but even with the international victory, they’re still fighting for the playoffs in Major League Soccer — and both of those reasons are why they are so dangerous, Verde head coach Josh Wolff said.
“They’re champions,” Wolff said. “The challenge is going in their stadium with the players they have, regardless of what the seasons look like and the injuries … and it’s a difficult year they’ve endured given the schedule they’ve had. They’ll be up for it, though. It’ll be a packed house.”
If the playoffs began now, Seattle would be on the outside looking in. The Sounders come into the match at No. 9 in the Western Conference standings with seven teams qualifying for the postseason, so the motivation for the hosts is certainly there. Seattle is also one of the best home teams in the conference with an 8-5-1 mark, and they’ve made the playoffs every year since they entered the league in 2009.
MORE THAN THE SCORE: Stay up to date on sports stories like these, and sign up for our More than the Score sports newsletter at kxan.com/newsletters
Wolff said the Sounders “have a number of ways they can hurt you,” and even though they are missing people due to injuries, they aren’t to be taken lightly, especially at Lumen Field.
Forwards Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz each have seven goals in MLS play to lead the Sounders. The club is coming off a 2-1 win over Houston to keep their playoffs dreams alive, and ties won’t do the Sounders any good. They’ve got to win to keep pace in the postseason race, down six points to rival Portland who currently occupies the final playoff spot.
“Every game from now is kind of like a final for us,” Morris told MLS.com’s Ari Liljenwall. “We really need to keep stringing wins together to get ourselves back above the line.” Morris is a homegrown player who grew up in Seattle, attending Mercer Island High School and then going to Stanford for college.
Morris said Austin FC is “going to be dangerous,” and stressed the Sounders have to take advantage of its fans in spacious Lumen Field which can hold 72,000 people. It’s more than 3.5 times larger than Q2 Stadium, but it’s also the home stadium for the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL.
In order to get back on the right side of a result and officially make the playoffs, Wolff said his guys “need to be difficult to play against.”
“In some levels, we’re quite difficult to play against,” he said. “In some other areas, like set pieces, we’ve given up some goals, and when you’re behind, you get a little vulnerable going for the equalizer.”
What’s happened since the big win over LAFC?
Wolff said the coaching staff and players have gone over the video of the goals Austin FC has allowed in the past 10 games, and he said generally, the defense has been strong. However, he identified some areas where the team needs to “button up” before they take on Seattle.
“Some of it is positioning, some of it is decision making and some of it is just making the play in front of us,” Wolff said. “It’s not that we’re outnumbered, it’s a level of connection, and now a commitment to winning the ball. And then if we are broken, then what’s the reaction to those transition moments.”
He said he wants to “create more clarity” with position groups and that’s critical for Austin FC to clean if they want to make a deep playoff run.
But first, they have to officially get into the playoffs. Since Austin’s 4-1 win over league-leading LAFC on Aug. 26 — a win the many in the organization called historic — things haven’t gone Verde’s way.
A 2-1 loss to Portland at home and then a 3-0 loss to Nashville on the road have been a bit of a letdown after one of the most important wins in club history.
“We haven’t gotten too far ahead of ourselves in any situation and we’re not going to bang ourselves up too bad over a couple of losses,” Wolff said. “They were also good performances. The Portland game was a good performance. We got punished on a couple of set pieces and we should have scored a boatload of goals, and the first half was strong against Nashville.”
Verde announces Dutch partnership during Netherlands’ Queen visit to Q2
As part of the visit of Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands to Q2 Stadium, the club announced Thursday a partnership with PSV Eindhoven, one of the premier clubs in the Netherlands.
The multi-year partnership will feature “the two clubs exchanging knowledge and expertise on scouting, education, player development, and more,” the club said in a press release.
Austin FC Academy players just came back from the PSV Eindhoven grounds after 10 days of training and friendly matches.
“We’re very excited to partner with a club as well-respected in world football as PSV Eindhoven,” Austin FC sporting director Claudio Reyna said. “Working together and sharing ideas about player and coaching development is sure to benefit both clubs as we look to continuously improve the sporting side of our clubs through new and innovative ways of improving our soccer methodologies.”
How to watch Austin FC vs. Seattle Sounders
7 p.m., Lumen Field, Seattle, Wash.
TV: The CW Austin (OTA channel 54); Unimas Austin (tape delay)
Streaming: MLS LIVE on ESPN+, AustinFC.com, Austin FC app; UnivisionAustin.com, Univision Austin app
Radio: KASE-FM Alt 97.5, KLQB-FM 104.3 HD2