TUKWILA – What should you do if you are a fan of the Sounders and watch your team punch in March, April and May?
What to do if the spring results are as bleak as this year’s spring skies?
The answer is really simple: stock up on Lumen Field summer tickets knowing the team will rocket the rankings from Cape Canaveral.
Take 2016, for example, when the Sounders only won six of their first 21 MLS games, three of which were draws. They finished in fourth place on the Western Conference rankings before winning their first MLS Cup in Toronto.
Or in 2017, when the Sounders won five of their first 18 games, drawing six times in that half. They finished second in the standings before losing to Toronto in the MLS Cup final.
And then there was 2018, when the Sounders won four of their first 15 games, drawing three times and falling to the penultimate place in the standings. Again they catapulted to second place in the West before losing a heartthrob to the Timbers in the conference semifinals.
In other words, there was no reason to panic this season when Seattle started 2022 4-1-6.
“We get pissed off,” said Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer, “but we don’t panic.”
During the aforementioned three-year period, the Sounders were one of the most amazing teams in American professional sports. Full of talent, they would find a way to mess the first half of the season as if they were substitute players replacing a striking starting team. Then, in the second half, they would seem ready for 90 minutes with FC Barcelona.
To be honest, it hasn’t been like that for the past three seasons. They had a dominant start in 2019 and won the No. 2. They were similarly superior in the early part of 2020 before losing in the MLS Cup final. But Schmetzer smiled as he discussed last season, when Seattle set a league record by remaining unbeaten in their first 13 games, only to go out in the first round of the playoffs. He was the inverse of all the successes he enjoyed when he first took over as manager in 2016.
Right now, the Sounders are following the project of those seasons. They are 6-2-6 after getting two wins and a draw in their last three outings. Sure, there’s a Saturn-sized excuse for the slow start in the MLS game this year: The Sounders were busy winning the CONCACAF Champions League title, which may well be the most prestigious championship they’ve won.
Even so, they seem more used to growing after wrestling than any club in the MLS.
“It’s not something we plan for,” said Sounders forward Jordan Morris. “But I think we’re made for moments like the end of the season and the playoffs and tournaments as you see. We begin to take it back a little “.
More than a little. It’s hard to argue that the Sounders haven’t played the best football stretch in the league in the previous six seasons. Six playoff appearances, four MLS Cup appearances, and two MLS leagues make this case compelling. And given the CCL title they won against Mexico City’s Pumas in May, a third MLS Cup could make 2022 the best season a team in this league has ever produced.
But are they really “built” for the playoffs? It’s not like Sounders CEO Garth Lagerwey went out of his way to select players who would idle early and accelerate late. Perhaps, though – after all the rehearsals and ripple veterans like Morris, Cristian Roldan and Stefan Frei have held out over the past few seasons – they are more prepared for a sprint in the second half of any of the other 27 teams in the MLS.
“‘I think’ built ‘may be a good word to describe it, but I think it’s more that we have enough experience for those great moments because we’ve been through them,” said Schmetzer. “Only the history of this club … we know a little bit.”
The Sounders’ top scorer Raul Ruidiaz will be eliminated with a hamstring injury on Saturday when the Sounders host Sporting Kansas City. But the team are relatively healthy overall and have midfielder Nico Lodeiro – arguably their best player – whose surgically repaired right knee limited him to just four starts last season.
Everything is ready for another deep ride. Early Sounders shortcomings should never get their fans down, if anything they should get them pumped.