The Sounders locker room had a feeling on Sunday that they hadn’t felt as an MLS club. A loss at the hands of the rival Portland Timbers.
In four previous meetings, the Sounders won two US Open Cup matches against the second division Timbers in Portland in both 2009 and 2010 and then went 1-0-1 last year against the new MLS side.
However, the loss on Sunday meant much more than ending that successful streak against Portland. It also extended a bad run of form in the MLS regular season that has seen the Sounders go winless in their last seven matches.
Now they find themselves at a crossroads as they look to fight their way back to the form that saw them get off to their best start in franchise history at 7-1-1 before going 0-4-3 since.
“I don’t feel good about the last series of games. I think the team in the locker room needs to decide which team is the Seattle Sounders. The Seattle Sounders that played the first 7-8 games of the season or the Sounders that have played the last eight games of the season,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “They’re at the crossroads where they need to decide which team they are.”
In those first nine matches, Seattle had the best defense in the league with six shutouts and just three goals allowed. That defense has faltered since, though, allowing 13 goals in their seven-game skid, three times allowing at least two goals.
And while the times have grown tougher of late, the confidence in the locker room is still there, even if some of the swagger they had on the field at the beginning of the season isn’t as prevalent.
“You can’t panic. This team has been really consistent over the last three years. We still have a long season,” said forward Eddie Johnson, who has two goals in the last three games and now shares the team-lead with five on the season. “You can’t panic. It’s football.”
The Sounders will be helped as their lineup gets healthier. Starters at the beginning of the season like Michael Gspurning and Adam Johansson are on the verge of recovering from their injuries and Patrick Ianni and Leo Gonzalez are both back, which will surely strengthen the defense. And while David Estrada went down with a fractured foot, Steve Zakuani is easing back into his first appearance of the season, having already made his first soiree into the 18-man gameday lineup last week in a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City.
That encourages Schmid that the team doesn’t need to undergo any sort of overhaul to get back on track.
“The pieces are here. We played with quality last year and we played with quality at the beginning of the year this year,” he said.
According to backup goalkeeper Andrew Weber, who is in his fifth MLS season and eighth as a professional, the key to the change isn’t from anything external, but within the locker room itself.
“When things are going bad, it seems like it’s the end of the world,” Weber said. “It’s us 30 guys on the team and in the staff dialing in and working hard and looking in the mirror and saying ‘We’ve got to do this.’ It’s just a mentality.”
The Sounders will look to get back on the winning track on Saturday when they head to Gillette Stadium to face the New England Revolution before a road tilt with Real Salt Lake on July 4 and a meeting with the Colorado Rapids on July 7. First though, they travel to San Francisco to meet the San Jose Earthquakes in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Kickoff for Tuesday’s match is scheduled for 7:30 pm Pacific.