The Sounders returned to practice Tuesday following a fourth straight loss over the weekend. In a bit of a change, training sessions this week won’t be open to the media — even the first couple — so these notes will be from interviews, not from observations…
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— In another deviation from the norm, coach Sigi Schmid didn’t wait for a question to start his interview session. He came out firing with an impassioned defense of how his team clinched a playoff berth, and the sarcasm at the start is hard to miss. “I want to apologize that we didn’t win five in a row at the end of the season to make the playoffs,” he said. “I know (you are) only considered a playoff team if you win five in a row, but I’d rather be in the playoffs than be in San Jose’s shoes, where they win a lot of games at the end and they don’t make the playoffs. To make the playoffs, you have to get points at some point in the season. We got our points in the middle of the season. We didn’t start off well early, we haven’t, so far, finished well, but at the end of the day, we got enough points to get into the playoffs.”
— He later added that there was some “relief” within the team, of course, following the Galaxy-San Jose that officially clinched Seattle’s berth.
— Form aside, there are some personnel issues to address. One is starting goalkeeper, as Marcus Hahnemann played for the second game in a row in place of Michael Gspurning. Schmid was asked what led to that decision in Dallas, and he said, “We just thought that Marcus did all right in training. Michael’s training came on as the week went on. But each week is a new decision as it regards to the goalkeeping.”
— So does Schmid consider his team as having a No. 1 goalkeeper? “We feel we have two quality goalkeepers and we’ll have a number 1 goalkeeper on Sunday,” he said. And will that decision be made or announced before the game? “We might make the decision earlier,” he added. “We’re not going to tell you guys until Sunday.”
— And how about the injuries? Well, Schmid said Eddie Johnson (groin), Obafemi Martins (groin) and Djimi Traore (knee) are all improving: “We’ll see how close they get to being able to play.”
— In a related note, Schmid indicated the team will take it easy Sunday with some players on the way back from injury. “We want to be healthy and we want to play well,” he said. “We want to do a little bit of both. We also have to be smart because we know we’re in the playoffs, so we don’t want to put anybody out there on the field that by playing them on Sunday it’s going to severely hurt their chances to be able to play the next game. So we’re going to put guys out there who are healthy.” One player who appears to fit in that mold is defender Leo Gonzalez, who has been playing through some issues and could benefit from a game off, according to Schmid.
— Clint Dempsey, who is recovering from a sprained shoulder, appeared to get through the Dallas game OK, but Schmid noted that he paid for it: “When the opponent knows you have a bad shoulder, sometimes you happen to get knocked down accidentally on purpose.”
— Asked how important it is to avoid the play-in game, Schmid just noted both teams in the MLS Cup last year were in their respective play-in games.
— In another interesting quote, he said, “Obviously we’re disappointed at the end of the year because we were in a position that we could compete for the Supporters’ Shield, we could compete for the conference crown, and we didn’t do that. So we’re disappointed in that, for sure. We want to right that and sort that away, but that now doesn’t affect what happens in the playoffs, because very rarely does the team that wins Supporters’ Shield actually win in the playoffs. There are a lot of teams that are considered good teams in the league that have very few trophies.”
— Asked about majority owner Joe Roth‘s text message of support to Sports Illustrated, Schmid said he hadn’t seen it until someone showed it to him: “I try not to look at a lot of that stuff.”
— When it comes to getting to full strength, a seemingly unattainable goal this season, the Sounders might have a chance to get close in the next week or so. “At least the cast of characters should be the same and we can sort of put our heads togethers and say, ‘OK, this is the way we’re going to try and play and see if that works,” Schmid said.
— Definitely something to look forward to. “Believe me,” he added, “you don’t go into a season and say, ‘OK, let’s see if we can come up with 33 different lineups for 34 games.”
— Last came a question about Fan Appreciation Day, and here was Schmid on the fans: “The fans, as always, mean everything. I know they’ve been disappointed over the last few games, as well, but I think the fans mean everything for us. We’ve tried to reward the fans. We’re one of three clubs that have made the playoffs five years in a row — us, Salt Lake and L.A. I think that’s a huge accomplishment. It’s a bigger accomplishment than I think people realize. We need to appreciate our fans, so no matter what happens on Sunday, it’s Fan Appreciation Day and we need to show our respect for the fans, because they’ve been there with us when things are good when things are going not so good. They’ve always been there. They’ve always had our back, hopefully they’ll continue to have our back, and I want them to know we have their back, as well.”