It’s been a long, arduous climb, but Sounders FC has reached the top of the table in Major League Soccer after downing Real Salt Lake, 2-0, at CenturyLink Field on Friday night.
At 15-8-4 (49 points), Seattle surpassed Real Salt Lake’s 48 points on a 14-9-6 record. Although Sigi Schmid and his team took a moment to savor the view from the top, they won’t take much more than that as they still have seven matches left to play and the race for the Supporters’ Shield is tight as can be.
“It means a lot to be in the first position now, but our goal is to finish in the best position that we can,” Seattle captain Mauro Rosales said. “We have games in hand and we have many difficult games ahead, so we have to keep the same mentality and play the same way. It’s not enough what we’ve done, we have to push the guys even more because we need more points and we’d like to stay in the same position we’re in now.”
Added veteran defender Zach Scott, “In my opinion, we’ve accomplished very little. We’ve worked hard and we’ve earned everything we’ve gotten to this point, but it means very little if you’re in first place one week and then you lose that position the following week because you don’t play well. Our goal is to prepare for a very good Galaxy team and continue to hold this spot.”
That approach comes naturally for Sounders FC. The club has never believed that its record was reflective of the team in the locker room and that won’t change now that they’ve taken the top spot.
Much of that comes from the rough start Seattle had this season, going winless in its first five matches. The team pointed to a victory over Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions League as a sign that the team was better than its record. After all, it was the first-ever series win by an MLS side over a Mexican opponent in the knockout stage of Champions League.
“When we had our rough start everybody was questioning how we were going to be,” said forward Lamar Neagle, who has eight goals to match Obafemi Martins for the team lead. “We’re a close group and we knew that we’re a good team and it’s a long season and it was going to show.”
Friday’s win came over the previous holders of the top spot, but RSL was also a team against whom Seattle sought redemption. In the first meeting at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 30, Salt Lake’s control of the match was much more than the 2-1 score would indicate. Similarly, they weren’t nearly as dominant in a 2-0 home win the second time around on June 22.
Those road defeats left many outside the organization questioning whether Seattle could get the job done against the league’s top teams. Keeping that negativity from permeating the walls of the locker room helped the Sounders in their ascent.
“I always believed it. I think the guys in the locker room always believed it,” Schmid said. “There were still people out there who were doubting us. I felt very confident that we could play well against Salt Lake. Today we did a good job of executing our gameplan.”
Even in a 2-0 victory, players pointed out individual things they could have done better to make the win even more thorough.
Add to that attitude the fact that Schmid still hasn’t been able to start his best 11 because of injuries, suspensions and international call-ups. Even the youngest of Sounders has his eyes focused not on where Seattle stands now, but what it needs to do to keep that top spot.
“It’s amazing. We can’t just sit here and be all excited,” 20-year-old defender DeAndre Yedlin said. “We still have a lot of work to do. We need to stay in first, win the Supporter’s Shield, and then do well in playoffs.”