TUKWILA – For Sigi Schmid, fatherly advice often involves soccer.

That was the case this week when his son Kyle, an assistant coach for the UC Riverside men’s soccer team, appealed for help over text message:

I can’t believe we lost a game. ... It’s still eating at me. ... How do you deal with this?

Dad could relate to the feeling, as his Sounders FC started the season with a franchise-worst 0-3-2 record in March, and the advice to Kyle was consistent with Seattle’s approach to turning around its season.

“My response to him was, ‘You have to believe in what you’re doing, you have to be focused on the next task, and sometimes a primal scream in a room is a good thing,’” said Schmid, whose team hosts the New York Red Bulls in a top-of-the-table clash at 6 p.m. today.

The Sounders never lost belief amid a last-place start — even if a scream or two was warranted — and that constancy has been rewarded with a steady rise in the Western Conference.

Seattle could actually be the league’s first team to clinch a playoff berth if results go as needed; the Sounders have to beat the Red Bulls and get help with a Columbus Crew win today against FC Dallas to qualify.

Even with a major objective to be had, midfielder Mauro Rosales insisted the team is just trying to maintain the mentality that has fueled an 8-1-1 run since the end of July.

“It doesn’t matter who is in front of us,” Rosales said. “We’re just trying to do our work — win the games, get points — and that’s going to put us in the playoffs and in a good race for the Supporters’ Shield.”

The Red Bulls come into the weekend with 51 points, most in the league and one more than the Sounders. While Sunday’s game will determine the best in MLS, it won’t feature some of the team’s elite individuals.

New York didn’t travel with star forward Thierry Henry or defender Jamison Olave, a two-time MLS All-Star, due to injury concerns involving the artificial turf at CenturyLink Field.

“It’s not about two players,” Red Bulls coach Mike Petke told MLSsoccer.com, “It’s about the 11 who suit up, and I have confidence in the 11 who suit up. Are we the underdog? Of course we’re the underdog. Even if Thierry and Olave were there, we’d be the underdog, and that’s fine. We’ll see what type of mentality we have, see what type of character we show in this game.”

Seattle could be without designated player Clint Dempsey for a second straight game with a hamstring strain. The forward will be a game-time decision as to whether he could even assume a substitute role.

Yet another game the Sounders won’t be at full strength.

“You’d like to get them all out there together and see what it would look like over an extended period of time,” said Schmid. “Hopefully that will happen before the playoffs.”

NOTES: There will be a moment of silence before the game in memory of Troy Wolff, a Sounders FC fan who was fatally stabbed downtown after Seattle’s home game against Real Salt Lake on Sept. 13. ... No football lines will be on the field today, even after a quick turnaround from the college game between Washington State and Stanford on Saturday. ... Schmid indicated that Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez is unlikely to play due to a groin injury.