A Completely Different Bulldog

Past successes and failures give no indication for what type of result to expect in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

For all of the Sounders FC’s successes over the last three years, there is one thing they’d like to change.

They are the first team in Major League Soccer history to win three straight US Open Cup titles.  They are the first expansion club to reach the playoffs in each of their first three seasons.  They are also one of only four teams that reached the playoffs in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

However, they have yet to win a playoff series and that’s something they’d like to change immediately.

“It’s something we’ve got to get off our resume,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said Monday after a light training session.

In 2009, they squared off with the Houston Dynamo in a physical series that couldn’t be decided by the 180 minutes on the clock and went to overtime, where Houston got a goal from Brian Ching to put Seattle away.

In 2010, the LA Galaxy got a wonder goal from Edson Buddle in Seattle in the first leg, then built on that lead with two more goals at the Home Depot Center before Steve Zakuani could get Seattle on the board with their first ever MLS Cup Playoff goal.

This year’s Sounders FC team is far ahead of those from the previous two seasons though.

“The main thing I took out of those two series was our physical aspect of our game needed to be a little bit tougher in the playoffs, but I think throughout the season we’ve shown we’re able to do that,” Schmid said.  “Also, we have to score goals.  We’ve scored one goal in four playoff games.  That’s another big point for us is that we have to be able to score goals in the playoffs.”

Scoring goals hasn’t been an issue for the Sounders in 2011.  They led the league with 56 goals, far outpacing their previous two seasons when they scored 38 and 39 goals in 30-game seasons in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Now with Fredy Montero leading the charge with 12 goals and Alvaro Fernandez close behind with nine, Seattle not only has a potent pair, but also depth in their attack.  Five other players had three goals or more this season for the Sounders and all that was done without budding superstar Steve Zakuani and goal-scoring forward O’Brian White for most of the season because of long-term injuries.

They’ve certainly had their scoring boots on in the final months of the season.  In the last eight games of the season, Seattle scored 20 goals while going 6-0-2. 

“We’re scoring goals now, which is the most important thing,” said midfielder Brad Evans, who has a goal and four assists in the last five matches.  “We know that we’re going to create four or five good chances a game.  We’ve done that every single game all year.  It’s a matter of just finishing them.”

All told, they finished the last few months on a tear, but had long stretches of success at various points throughout the season.

They went 6-0-3 in one unbeaten stretch from May 20-July 16.  They went unbeaten in the months of June (3-0-2) and August (3-0-1).

While all of those trends show positivity for the Sounders, they are also quick to say that past results aren’t important come playoff time.

“When there’s something major on the line, the teams will show their true colors,” Evans said.  “We don’t even look at form.  When it comes to playoff time, it’s a completely different bulldog.”

Seattle’s series with Real Salt Lake begins Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium, with the second leg at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday, November 2, at 7pm.  Tickets are still available on SoundersFC.com.

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