SEATTLE — Things went much differently for the Seattle Sounders on Sunday evening at CenturyLink Field against Minnesota United than they did two weeks ago in Minneapolis.
After throttling the Loons 4-0 at TCF Bank Stadium, the Sounders hosted Minnesota looking to extend their unbeaten run to nine matches, which would tie a club record. Seattle did just that, but it was hardly as simple as the club was hoping it’d be.
“I thought we were casual at times,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “Mentally casual. I’m not going to knock us for our effort, the effort was there. We worked our butts off, which is great, but I think we just had to be a bit [sharper].”
Said Clint Dempsey: “I think it’s very rare where you beat a team 4-0 and you play them again and it’ll be the same. There will always be corrections made as they figure out ways to make it tighter.”
The Sounders found a game-winner in the 94th minute when Dempsey earned and subsequently buried a penalty kick to give Seattle a 2-1 win, all three points and catapult them to the top of the Western Conference. Seattle has embodied this never-say-die attitude all season, as much a credit to Head Coach Brian Schmetzer’s tactical adjustments as his ability to get his team to buy in.
Seattle has scored five goals in the 88th minute or later this season, four of which have either tied or won the game. Schmetzer has repeatedly said that this team is much different than the one that went on a late-season tear to win MLS Cup last year, but on Sunday he conceded how that mental resolve has carried over into 2017.
“That was one of the hallmarks of the team last year, they found different ways to win games,” said Schmetzer. “That mindset hasn’t been lost on this group.”
“There was no quit in the team,” he continued. “Sometimes when you’re losing games and wondering how your team is going to respond, they don’t give up. This was actually a time when our team didn’t get up because they knew they wanted to find a winner…At the end of the day, people aren’t going to remember [this performance], they’re just going to remember the three points and we won 2-1.”
The character of this team has been on full display all season — the 2-2 draw in Montreal, the 3-3 draw against the England Revolution, the 4-3 comeback win over D.C. United — and in a way, it is preparing the Sounders for the rigors and challenges that await in the postseason. Making the MLS Cup Playoffs is one thing, but being mentally strong enough to respond when things aren’t going well will make the difference when it matters most.
The steadfastness of the 2017 edition of the Sounders is one that should have the Western Conference on notice.
“If you have an easy season all season and you don’t go through hardships, you saw what happened last year,” said Frei. “I don’t think you’re going to be successful at the end. I think you need to have tough times to really work on the character of that team to be able to call upon that knowledge and that character when it’s needed.”