The Seattle Sounders can clinch their fifth playoff berth in as many seasons of existence when they visit FC Dallas on Saturday, but they didn't think they would have to wait this long.
The banged-up and struggling Sounders look to end a three-game skid as they hope to find themselves in the postseason by the end of the weekend.
Three weeks ago, it seemed unlikely it would take until the final two matches of the season for the Sounders (15-11-6) to secure a spot. They were 8-1-3 in a 12-game stretch after a 1-all tie with New York on Sept. 29.
Seattle's ensuing three-game slide has left it winless in five straight for the second time this year. The Sounders have been outscored 10-2 during the losing streak and have managed four goals in their last five.
A 1-0 loss at Portland last Sunday dropped them from the top of the Western Conference into a tie for third. However, they'll qualify for the playoffs with a victory or losses by both Vancouver on Saturday and San Jose on Sunday.
"We need to get the points to get into the playoffs, so the Dallas game is important," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid told the team's official website. "Every game is important now."
Injuries haven't helped the Sounders' cause in the past three games, and they'll continue to be an issue in this contest - as will a suspension.
Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso will sit out after being red-carded Sunday in a game in which the Sounders felt they should have earned a better result.
"We hit the crossbar in the first half, we hit the crossbar again in the second half, even playing a man down. I didn't think we deserved to lose this game at all," Schmid said. "We deserved to come away with at least a tie."
Midfielder Brad Evans and forward Eddie Johnson were called up to the U.S. national team for World Cup qualifiers last week. Both should be back against Dallas, though Johnson is dealing with a groin injury.
Clint Dempsey, still looking for his first goal since returning to MLS in August, started against Portland after missing nearly a month with a hamstring problem. However, he injured his shoulder in the game and isn't certain he'll face Dallas.
"It's just some swelling and it's definitely uncomfortable," Dempsey said. "I'll just see if there's a way that I can keep pushing through it and be available for the weekend."
Forward Obafemi Martins has missed the last two games with a groin injury, and his status is unclear.
Dallas (10-11-11) is also in the midst of a five-match winless streak, suffering a 3-2 loss to Chicago on Saturday that ended its playoff hopes and led to the decision of coach Schellas Hyndman to resign effective at the end of the season.
Hyndman, who took over in 2008, led FC Dallas to its lone MLS Cup appearance in 2010, but the team has failed to reach the playoffs the last two years.
"After a lot of thought and consideration, I feel the time is right for me to step down as head coach of FC Dallas," Hyndman said in a statement released by the team. "I want to thank the Hunt family for their support and friendship, our players, coaches and front office for their dedication and effort during my time here, and especially the great FC Dallas fans."
The Sounders have won both matchups with Dallas this year, though both were played in Seattle. Martins, Johnson and Evans scored in a 3-0 win Aug. 3 and Johnson had two goals in a 4-2 victory May 18.
The Sounders are 6-1-4 all-time against Dallas and are 2-0-3 on the road in the series.