Each remaining game is a virtual must-win for the Seattle Sounders to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs, beginning with Tuesday night's clash against visiting FC Cincinnati.
But as Seattle (12-16-3, 39 points) tries to close the gap on the seven Western Conference playoff places, they may be doing so without some of their most important healthy players.
Tuesday's game was rescheduled from this spring to clear space in Seattle's itinerary as it competed in and won the 2022 Concacaf Champions League. As a result, the match now falls in an international window.
Winger Jordan Morris (United States), striker Raul Ruidiaz (Peru), midfielder Alex Roldan (El Salvador) and defenders Nouhou (Cameroon) and Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) were among the Sounders players called into their national teams this month. And while some might return in time for Tuesday's game, some will likely miss out as Seattle tries to close a gap of six points between itself and the playoff line over its last three games.
While Seattle manager Brian Schmetzer wants his strongest possible team, he also empathized with those players' position.
"The players obviously have total control, but no player wants to not play for his national team. That's the conundrum," Schmetzer said. "If you snub your nose at your national team, chances are you ain't gonna make it back."
Despite closing in on their first playoff appearance since joining MLS in 2019, Cincinnati (11-8-12, 45 points) aren't facing as many absences, and their attacking trio should be in place.
Leading scorer Brandon Vazquez (16 goals) was left out of the U.S. national team group that lost to Japan last Friday and will play Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Brazilian attacker Brenner (14 goals) and MLS assist leader Luciano Acosta (18 assists) should also be available as Cincinnati attempts to stretch its unbeaten run to 11 matches and move above Orlando into fifth in the East.
"Our trainings have been lively. I think the quality has been good," said manager Pat Noonan. "I think guys understand where we're at and what's ahead of us. It's a confident group and a motivated group."
--Field Level Media