What a difference one minute can make.
A few seconds here and a few seconds there can mean grabbing a victory from the doldrums of a draw, salvaging a point from a losing cause or falling in defeat. When those moments come at the end of the game, they seem even more critical.
Take the young 2010 season for the Sounders FC, for example. One momentary lapse meant a 2-2 draw when Seattle seemed to have three points wrapped up in a very difficult road meeting with defending MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake. An ill-timed (and, to many, ill-whistled) penalty in stoppage time meant a draw on the road against FC Dallas last week. That both came with mere seconds left in stoppage time, made them an even bitterer pill to swallow.
How much better would you feel about this team at 4-2-0 through six games, sitting just a point behind the LA Galaxy 20 percent of the way into the season? Even if just one of those results had ended in favor of Seattle, that would mean they would sit at 3-2-1 for 10 points.
“It’s extremely frustrating, but you always know that teams take all caution out of the equation and they throw numbers up there to make it difficult. Throughout seasons it evens itself out and we already got one of them back. I’m sure we’ll get another one here before it’s over,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “I would prefer – and I know my family and my wife would prefer it too – if we cruise into those last 30 seconds with a two or three goal lead.”
Instead, they are at a middling 2-2-2. We’ve seen Keller command an again strong defense that has allowed 7 goals through six games, yet only the final two against Toronto FC have truly come off the run of play. Tightening up the defenses on set plays, which has been a focus in training and has paid dividends over the last three games. The defense has remained disciplined and solid to that end.
The offense, meanwhile, has shown flashes of brilliance, moments of tremendous movement - of dynamic football that has been a sought by the Sounders FC throughout their existence.
“With the disappointment with the way the first game ended. Then we felt we did a lot of good things in the Toronto game and sometimes you’re not rewarded for them. That’s the nature of pro sports,” Keller said. “We’ve got two home games to put that right and we’re looking forward to it. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, so we’re looking forward to getting back on track.”
What’s missing has been finishing, but each week it feels as though they are one step closer to putting those lulls behind them. In Toronto, they controlled the ball, moved around the field like a well-oiled machine and had the home side on their heels. All despite playing with a makeshift lineup due to injuries and a harrowing schedule that saw them play two road games and travel over 5,600 air miles over four days.
“I think we’re in good shape. I think there are a lot of positive things – especially from the Toronto game – to take with us,” Ljungberg said. “We played good football and created things. We’ve been criticized by the fans that we haven’t played well and I think we haven’t either. But I think that was a big step forward.”
The team is by no means satisfied with their 2-2-2 start and aren’t about to start making excuses. They will be the first to admit that they can play better at this point. However, the signs of light are more than encouraging for the long-term success of this team.
“The teams are very close and it’s how you find yourself playing in September and October which is truly going to win you a championship,” Keller said. “You just have to make sure you pick up enough points during the season to get there. We’re in good shape.”
The additions of Pat Noonan and David Estrada to the existing group have added depth to the front lines - depth that became even more necessary when last year’s No. 2 scorer Nate Jaqua went under the knife for surgery to repair a lower abdominal injury.
Given that, this team is still just mere moments away from an incredible start.