A collapse over the final month of the regular season has dropped the Seattle Sounders from Supporters' Shield contenders to the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
A seven-game winless streak has left them hosting a knockout-round game against the fifth-seeded Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night just to earn the chance to play top-seeded Portland in the West semifinals.
The Sounders (15-12-7) were outscored 14-5 during their 0-4-3 slide - the stretch includes a 5-1 loss at Colorado on Oct. 5 - which followed a five-game winning streak that had Seattle in contention for the best record in the league. The club had allowed one goal during the five consecutive victories.
The Sounders closed out the season with a 1-all home draw against Los Angeles on Sunday. Clint Dempsey's goal in the 30th minute was his first in nine games with the Sounders and the team's only goal in their last three games.
Seattle finished 10-2-5 at home, a season after going 11-4-2 at raucous CenturyLink Field and reaching the Western Conference finals. The Sounders went 1-0-1 in Seattle during that postseason.
"We're due for a win. That's the most important thing," midfielder Brad Evans said. "We're due for a win and I'm really happy we have (Wednesday's) game at home."
The Sounders won 1-0 at Colorado on April 20, and the teams played to a 1-all tie in Seattle on July 20. The Rapids are 2-8-2 all-time against the Sounders and 0-5-1 on the road in the series.
This will be their first postseason meeting.
Seattle's season-ending swoon saw some shuffling at goalkeeper, with starter Michael Gspurning getting benched for two games in favor of Marcus Hahnemann after allowing nine goals in a two-match stretch.
Gspurning played Sunday and is preparing as if he'll be part of the starting 11 on Wednesday.
"I tried to use the time when I wasn't playing to put some extra effort in," Gspurning told the team's official website. "I won't miss the time I was on the bench but it was something that made me tougher maybe, or I learned another thing about going back to the basics. Push the reset button maybe."
Gspurning was in net throughout the five-game win streak that proceeded the final seven games, and he's recorded 10 shutouts this year, tying Colorado's Clint Irwin for fifth in the league.
The Rapids (14-11-9) also enter the playoffs on something of a sour note. After beating Seattle, they dropped two of their last three, including a 3-0 loss at Vancouver on Sunday.
They've been shut out three times in their last five.
"We're going to have to use this match and motivate ourself a little bit," captain Drew Moor told the team's website after the season-ending loss. "No matter where the (knockout) game is, we've for the most part performed well on the road this season. We're confident on the road. (The defeat to the Whitecaps is) a one-off game.
"I'm trying to tell these young kids, it doesn't matter at this point what it looks like, how you play, we've just got to go and get the job done."
Moor, a defender, scored two of his three goals this year against Seattle.
Forward Deshorn Brown scored twice in Colorado's October win over the Sounders. Brown led the team with 10 goals and has three in his last three matches.
The Sounders don't have a double-digit scorer but possess three players with at least eight goals in Eddie Johnson (nine) and Lamar Neagle and Obafemi Martins (eight apiece).
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