After Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders’ easy flight to the MLS Cup has hit turbulence. What was once a ten-point Supporters’ Shield lead and acres of breathing room in the Western Conference have become second place in the West and third for the league.
The Sounders played well enough to win at Rio Tinto. They just didn’t. The Sounders made some stupid errors, but were dangerous late in the game and pounded the Salt Lake goal with shots. I am not digging for moral victories, but there is no shame in showing up and putting forth a fine fight. Especially considering the schedule congestion. Though it’s curious because we blamed the long layoff between meaningful games for the slaughter at the hands of Los Angeles. Now we’re blaming too little time-off for this recent loss to RSL.
The bigger loss from Saturday was that of Seattle’s aura of invincibility. Way back on July Thirteenth, after beating Portland 2-nil, I looked Clint Dempsey in the eyes and greedily asked if the locker room was talking about the Shield. He said then, “You don’t win championships by talking about them” and the last month has proven him right. Those in the Soundersphere, myself included, have been talking about silverware and the treble and it has gotten us nothing but four losses in our last six league games.
8/16 1-2 RSL
8/10 2-0 Houston
8/2 0-1 San Jose
7/26 0-3 LA
7/13 2-0 Portland
7/5 0-1 Vancouver
That said, I don’t think we should draw any macrocosmic conclusions from this recent run of form. The implication behind the “Seattle has lost 4 of 6” statistic falls somewhere between slightly misleading and a damn lie. These results stretch back to and include the World Cup, Marshall’s injury, the Levi’s Field circus, US Open Cup play, and the DeAndre Yedlin contract distraction. Yes, what was once unquestioned dominance in the league, and especially the Western Conference, has regressed to a relinquishing of the pole positions, but this is merely regression to the mean. It was fun to think we had some super team, immune to the parity of MLS, but that can never be the case. Our earlier performance was unsustainable.
The last month hasn’t been easy, as injuries and distractions have been a constant. But good teams dig deep and get ‘er done. Just “putting forth a fine fight” won’t win silverware. The Sounders (and 45 thousand faithful) show up every game every season, but that hasn’t meant much towards winning the championships this team aspires to. It may be neo-platonic bullcrap but champions muster the will to win.
It’s the dog days of the season. Game after game after game after game, the Sounders punch the clock, answer the bell and take to the pitch. They host San Jose again on Wednesday, their fourth game in eleven days, and the three points at stake are all of a sudden precious. I don’t want to chicken little, but Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes has become a must-win for Seattle’s confidence, if not their aura of dominance.