Preparing for the Sounders stretch run toward the shield

How are we even at this point of the season. How is it actually even the end of September. Everything around me is pumpkin and I’m wearing sweaters.

Don’t get me wrong — I love fall and everything pumpkin, sweaters as well. But this time of year means that the end of the Major League Soccer regular season is incredibly close — and sitting atop the league table is Seattle Sounders FC.

This is not a first for the Sounders — look back at last season and the ensuing collapse for reference of the last time the Rave Green were in this situation. But this season is different, right?

I really hope so.

Six matches — that’s all there is remaining before the playoffs. Unlike last season though, the Sounders have already locked in a playoff spot, and a win in tonight’s match against FC Dallas would essentially guarantee a top-three finish, therefore avoiding the play-in match. All of these are good things.

So let’s take a look at the next five weeks and those six matches — how easy or difficult is the Sounders road to the Supporters Shield, the second step in this season’s treble.

Some roads start rocky — this may be one of them. Outside of the home-and-home series to end the season with the LA Galaxy, tonight’s match against FC Dallas (6 p.m. PST on MLS Live and local TV) is the most difficult of the bunch. FC Dallas is a very good team right now with young talent, speed and great dead ball scoring abilities. They’re big at the back, but slow. They’re skilled, but hot-headed. They can either be the start of a Sounders nightmare or a true showing of Seattle’s determination.

One positive that Seattle has going for itself tonight is that most of the Sounders brightest stars are rested — hence the 4-1 scoreline from the weekend loss at New York. Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Brad Evans, DeAndre Yedlin, Leo Gonzalez and Zach Scott didn’t start in that loss and should have fresh legs to go 90 down in Frisco, Texas. A point here would be good for the Sounders, three would be impressive and zero would not be the end of the world — barring a horrid scoreline.

Regardless of what happens tonight though, keep smiling Seattle — we play Chivas Saturday. This needs to be three points.

Then we’re done with the mid-week matches, but a few US friendlies could throw a wrench in Sigi Schmid’s plans.

Colorado is up next for the Sounders. The Rapids will likely miss the playoffs, and Seattle has had success against the Commerce City-based team this season. Again, three points should be expected.

After that match though, the Sounders could lose players like Dempsey, Evans and Yedlin for a couple of national team matches. Luckily this should only be for one MLS match — unfortunately this match is at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps and will decide the winner of the Cascadia Cup. All three Whitecaps matches have fallen on international dates this year — so who knows what will happen. This one is at home though, so I would like to think three points, but one may happen here.

That leaves us with the double-header that will likely decide the shield winner — barring a collapse from either side.

The first match is in LA, this one happens on Sunday, Oct. 19. That is followed up by the match at CentryLink Field the following Saturday.

MLS West Standings

With a game in-hand on the Galaxy, Seattle is sitting in control of its own destiny — so if all things go right, a split of results should do it for Seattle (win/loss or tie/tie). LA may also have a chance to drop points before the end of the season as they’ll also lose players to the international break and have the toughest remaining strength of schedule (vs. New York, vs. Toronto, at Dallas, vs. Seattle and at Seattle). I’d expect them to drop points in at least one, if not two of those matches.

It’s also important to remember that the first tie-breaker for the shield standings is total wins, which Seattle has two more of than LA.

It’s safe to say that neither team has a necessarily easy road, but I’d much rather have Chivas, Colorado and Vancouver on the schedule than NY, Toronto and Dallas before what should be an amazing end to the season.