C-plus or B-minus.
That’s how Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid grades the first half of the 2012 MLS season, as Seattle sits third in the Western Conference at 7-5-5.
The snapshot of the first half shows Seattle as a top contender in the West, but the reality of the first 17 games is a tale of two teams.
The Sounders had their best start in franchise history at 7-1-1. The defense was stellar, allowing just three goals through the first nine matches and the offense, while hot and cold, still had 13 goals.
However, they have earned just four points in the eight matches since, going 0-4-4 to stumble into the halfway point of the season.
Although the results haven’t been there in recent weeks, the effort has returned after a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Impact on June 16, which has Schmid encouraged as they start the second half of the season on Wednesday against Real Salt Lake.
“We can play better soccer than we’ve played,” Schmid said. “We have to get back to playing a little bit like we were in the beginning of the year, but I’ve been pleased with our mentality and the way we’ve approached the last two games.”
The Sounders hope to get back to the form they started the season with, when they held the best record in Major League Soccer through nine matches.
This despite suffering injuries to offseason acquisitions goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, defender Adam Johansson and forward Eddie Johnson. Gspurning started the first seven matches before a hip injury knocked him out of the lineup. Johansson made just three starts in the first nine matches because of hamstring trouble. Johnson suffered a hip injury in the CONCACAF Champions League that knocked him out of the first three matches.
Meanwhile, midfielder and captain Mauro Rosales missed four of the first five matches and midfielder Alvaro Fernandez, another designated player, missed five straight with a quad strain.
That meant plenty of early-season minutes for David Estrada, who responded with five goals through 13 matches, including a hat trick in the season opener.
The Sounders were rolling. Then it took a hard right turn with a 1-0 home loss to Real Salt Lake on May 12. They haven’t lost two in a row since, but have not been able to pull a victory out of the eight matches in that time.
“Things were coming easy. Victories just seemed to happen. Things took a bit of a turn in the second quarter (of the season),” midfielder Brad Evans said. “We found ourselves not trying hard enough. We thought that things were going to come too easy. Anytime you’re on a good streak, people want to bust that streak. Now we look forward. We know we can take some positives, but there’s also a lot that we can learn from those games.”
A 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes in the US Open Cup and a 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution left the Sounders with two positive road results to build into the second half. While they aren’t happy with the end result of the draw with New England, the team’s intensity has taken a turn in the right direction.
However, any notions of turning the corner are premature, according to Schmid.
“If we had pulled this one out in New England, you can talk maybe about turning the corner,” Schmid said. “Right now we’re still standing at the corner. We’ve gotten to the corner. We’ve peeked around the other side. We know what it looks like. Now we need to see what we can do from there.”
The Sounders will face Real Salt Lake in an Independence Day clash on Wednesday, then host the Colorado Rapids at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.