Seattle Sounders: Oathkeepers?

The Seattle Sounders square off against Real Salt Lake this weekend, as both teams hope to prove their dominance. I apologize to all my dedicated fans for not posting yesterday. The end of the quarter gets busy for adjunct instructors. You’re not here for mea culpas but idiosyncratic Sounders ravings, so without further ado:

It is the best of Sounders, it is the worst of Sounders (apologies to Mr. Dickens). The Seattle Sounders have been an offensive powerhouse this season, scoring 25 goals and winning 8 of their first 13 games. The Sounders play the swisscheese defense, allowing 21 goals. Somewhere at the mesh point of these two truths is Seattle’s potential.

Potential is not perception. The Sounders are not perceived to be the best team in the league. It’s not curious that despite sitting atop the league table no national soccer writer has Seattle at #1 in any power rankings. Most writers have unbeaten Real Salt Lake, this weekend’s opponent, as the top team. Yes, power rankings are inane, but the perception is what matters to fans. Silverware matters at the end of the year (and for all time), but you want to enjoy the ride during the season. You want to feel confidant and brag to your poor friends who doomed themselves to Timber fandom. Perception gives that permission. The Sounders are off to their best start ever. They’ve lead the Supporter’s Shield race for almost two months. But it is still May. November is what matters. How good will the 2014 Seattle Sounders be?

I think most Seattle fans are confidant we make the playoffs. The optimists see the Supporters’ Shield and a CCL ticket. Currently, we are 8-3-2, that projects to over 20 wins with only single digit losses. I’m not afraid to admit it: this season looks like Seattle’s best chance to win it all. We need to, this city hungers for victory and vindication. The roster is stacked. Dempsey is in his prime. We have a developing superstar in DeAndre Yedlin. The quality of players we currently roster is financially unsustainability. But how many of us really think this is the year we win smash through the playoffs and win MLS cup?

Seattle does not win in the playoffs. Seattle rarely wins home-and-home aggregate derbies, losing such fixtures four times in the MLS playoffs and twice in CCL play. Most of our epic meltdowns happen in these pressure cooker aggregate series: Santos Laguna, LA Galaxy, RSL, even Portland last year. The Sounders do well in one-offs such as the USOC, the CCL Group Stage and last year’s knockout round with Colorado. The aggregate score is a team bugaboo. I hate to say it, but maybe we need to learn a lesson from Portland. We need to find a way to keep our cool and win in the postseason.

What makes Sounders team’s chances different from postseason’s past? Dempsey in bloom? Our run-through-walls team chemistry? I know many scoff at the notion of character or grit but they’re passionless analytical geeks. As Wordsworth says “we murder to dissect” and analytics neuter the soul of the game. Soccer is still a game and it takes chutzpah and resiliency to fight and win. The Sounders showed all of this in their unbeaten streak, they came from behind and never said die. But the New England game erased a lot of that. Where went the grit? Sure we were tired, but excuses don’t buy you more chances come November.

Coach Sigi Schmid won MLS Cup in his fourth season with the Galaxy and in his third with the Columbus Crew. Granted, the league was different (easier) then, and he wasn’t starting from scratch with an expansion team. So let’s play a fun game of resetting the clock. If 2011 was Seattle’s “we’re no longer an expansion team” coming out party, than this is year four. Sigi is still on schedule to deliver the Cup his initial signing seemed to promise.

This weekend against RSL is our first quality test since New England. Let’s hope the Sounders play up to their promise.

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