With Major League Soccer to start up in Seattle next year, this Saturday's 7 p.m. home match between the Sounders and Vancouver figures to be the last regular-season match of the United Soccer Leagues First Division variety with a team from Seattle.
By MATT MASSEY
Special to The Seattle Times
Defender Zach Scott's seven years with the Seattle Sounders could be a distant memory soon if the team doesn't start playing better.
Sebastien Le Toux and Sanna Nyassi are the only players on the United Soccer Leagues club who really know their future as part of Major League Soccer (MLS) coming to Seattle in 2009.
With MLS looming, Saturday's 7 p.m. home match at Starfire Sports & Entertainment Complex versus Vancouver figures to be the last regular-season USL First Division match with a team from this city.
"I don't think we're playing our best," Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of his club, which has already earned a spot in the playoffs. "We need to make sure we're playing with some confidence."
Schmetzer wants to see his club take some swagger to the playoffs. The Sounders are 18-10-10 overall and 10-9-10 with 40 points in league.
Even with most players' futures uncertain after the 2008 season, Scott isn't ready to look to the final chapter just yet.
"Just like last year, when nobody knew if there was going to be a USL team, we're trying to make this year the best it can be," said Scott. "If we're not all going to make it to MLS together, then we're just trying to make this as successful as it possibly can be.
"There's still a lot of season left. Everyone's looking forward to extending the season by making a run in the playoffs."
Scott and his teammates would like nothing more than another USL First Division title to go with the ones in 2005 and 2007.
"For us, it's not the end of season," Scott said. "It's just the beginning of the second season."
Like every USL Sounder, Scott hopes his timing is right. The 28-year-old started a family less than three years ago.
"Everybody kind of has [MLS] in their head," he said. "MLS has been hanging over everybody's head all season, but the closer we get to the end, the more it's been about team."
Seattle has been up and down this season, but can finish as high as the No. 3 playoff seed out of seven and no lower than sixth.
Heading into the USL matches today, the Sounders were tied for fifth with Charleston (11-11-7, 40 points) and just a point behind Montreal (12-11-5) and Rochester (11-9-10).
Schmetzer, a candidate to coach Seattle's MLS club, acknowledges the end of an era.
"Emotionally, I think there will be some sense of sadness or closure for a very important seven years of my life," he said. "I've had a lot of great young players and older veteran guys play for me that helped me get to where I am.
"I have a lot of thanks to give to guys who helped me do that."
For players on the current Sounders' roster, especially veterans, it's more about keeping the dream alive.
"I don't get the sense that this is the end of anything," Scott said. "Everyone's optimistic about playing next year and making the Sounders FC team. They're geared up.
"I don't think anybody's ready to quit. Even the older guys have a lot left in their tanks. All of these guys can play somewhere in USL. If this isn't an opportunity to reach MLS, then it's a road in a different direction."
• The USL First Division playoffs begin Sept. 24 and Sept. 26 with three two-match aggregate series. The No. 1 seed and regular-season champion, either Puerto Rico or Vancouver, gets a bye into the semifinals.
The No. 2 seed faces No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5. The higher seed gets the choice of playing the first match at home or away.
• Many current Sounders who don't go on with the MLS club will draw interest from other USL franchises and already have, Schmetzer said.
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