After falling in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs for the second straight season, Sigi Schmid said he wanted to see more grit from the 2011 edition of the Sounders FC.
In topping Real Salt Lake 2-1 to end their 29-match home unbeaten streak, he saw glimpses of that team that he thinks can go far in the MLS Cup playoffs, US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League.
“I think the win in Salt Lake, being able to stop their streak, I think speaks well for the character of the team,” Schmid said. “What I’m looking for is being more consistent with that. That comes with maturity and a certain swagger and belief that you get when you grow as an individual player and as a team.”
It’s not just as simple as self-belief though. It has much more to do with trust and belief in each teammate, as well as an innate knowledge of when and where to find each teammate. All of which can be difficult to develop on a team that has come up with as many injuries as the Sounders have encountered this season.
With 20 players making starts for the Sounders through the first 14 matches this season, that cohesion hasn’t been as automatic as it seemed when they went on a run that saw them go unbeaten in 13 of 14 MLS matches in the second half of the 2010 season.
“Soccer is a game of mistakes and you don’t want to compound mistakes. You want to be able to trust that the guy next to you is going to help when you make a mistake and give you time to recover,” defender James Riley said. “I think we showed that character and that grit to dig out the win. It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but we were able to get the win by playing good team soccer. Team defense, team offense. It feels good.”
For Schmid, it has never been a question of desire or pride, but rather the savvy of a veteran team that can play to their strengths when the time fits and force teams out of their comfort zones when their own style isn’t running the game.
“Our guys have always walked on the field and have played with their hearts on their sleeves and battled for this club. They’re very respectful of the Sounders emblem and what it means to play for this club,” he said. “I think what we’re looking for is that edge - that gruff exterior that sometimes a grizzled, veteran team has. That belief that we can win in a difficult situation, that we can do what’s necessary on this day - whether it’s brilliant soccer or not.”
So could the win at Rio Tinto Stadium be the turning point - the key moment to the Sounders season that will trigger another great run of games? Only time will tell and that begins Saturday against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.
However, it was certainly a good start.
And while the style of soccer on the field wasn’t typical of the Sounders club, that has Schmid even more encouraged. It can’t always be their style that wins games for them.
“I think it was good for our team and our character. We’ve talked about stepping on the field and playing every game like it’s our last. We have Seattle Sounders on our jersey and we are the Sounders,” Schmid said. “We have to put it out there every time they step on the field.”