Not long ago, the Sounders FC was among the top stories in MLS for the wrong reasons. After going winless in their first five matches, they were the last team in the league to collect their first victory when they topped the Colorado Rapids on April 20. Now, they have turned that tale around and are 4-0-2 in their last six and are rocketing up the charts in the Western Conference, all while playing a difficult schedule in the process.
It’s been a dramatic turnaround that has seen the Sounders jump into contention early in the season for one of the five playoff spots in the West in what is turning out to be a highly competitive season at the top of the conference.
While their win over Colorado turned their fortunes around in the standings, it was the second half of their 2-1 loss against Real Salt Lake that head coach Sigi Schmid pointed to as the turning point in the early portion of the season.
“I thought the first half in Salt Lake we played badly. Until then I thought we’d been a little bit unlucky, but the first half in Salt Lake we played badly. That was something that we definitely pressed upon in the second half in Salt Lake. We won that half and played much better, and from there on out we stuck to it, and we can’t forget that work is part of what it is,” Schmid said after a 4-2 win over MLS-leading FC Dallas on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
The Sounders have also slowly gotten more and more healthy on the field.
They still have only started their optimum forward pair of Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins once, but they have gotten great play from Lamar Neagle in the process, not only bridging the gap until both are fit and available, but excelling and providing even more scoring options for Seattle. Add to that the return of David Estrada and the competition in training is rampant, but players are also better learning each other’s on-field tendencies as they train together more frequently.
“Guys have put in the work, guys have believed in themselves. The competition level with guys getting healthy has made for more competition in training, so everybody’s game has increased as a result of that,” Schmid said. “They understand better now how to use their strengths and players have a knack for the abilities of the players that we have. Until you get them out there on the field and you actually do it in games, no matter how much you do it on the training ground, it doesn't come across until you start playing games.”
The confidence of the team seemed to be at an all-time high when they posted a stoppage-time road victory over Sporting Kansas City on May 8 to give them four points from two road matches against the Philadelphia Union and Sporting KC. However, their self-assurance has grown exponentially with a 4-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, then a convincing victory over league-leading Dallas.
“They were on a good streak, we were on a good streak, but we’re unstoppable with these fans behind us,” said Neagle, who has three goals in his last two matches. “We've got so much firepower, it’s hard to stop. Our defense did a great job as well. We’re on a roll.”
Next up for the Sounders is a road test against the LA Galaxy, who sit fourth in the West at 5-4-2. The two-time defending MLS Cup champions will provide a good challenge for the Sounders, but they have proven over the last month that they are up to difficult challenges.
“We wouldn’t be where we are right now if we didn’t want to play the best and be the best. We couldn’t have asked for a better team, who’s been hot all year, to come here and really challenge us as a team and see where we are,” said Johnson following Saturday’s victory. “We showed our true character. We really put them on our terms from start to finish, and when we got our chances in the second half, we put them away.”