Built For This: The Sounders roster is primed for a third run to MLS Cup

It’s finally here.

The Seattle Sounders are just 11 days away from kicking off in their 11th consecutive Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. This team has won nail-biting games, high-scoring shootouts, and has grabbed last-gasp match-winning goals. With over 100 Audi MLS Cup Playoff appearances between them, this team is built for the postseason.

“We’re the Seattle freakin’ Sounders,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said after training on August 16, in the midst of a three-match winless streak. “And we’re going to continue to play we always do. We don’t quit. We don’t give up. Some of you guys might count us out… We are going to go down swinging. We are going to fight every game. We are going to win more games this year.”

Led by team captain Nicolás Lodeiro, the Sounders boast a roster capable of beating any team in a single-elimination match. From just 110 MLS regular season starts, Lodeiro has racked up 26 goals and 48 assists. In 2019 alone, he’s scored game-winning goals against the Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew. Raúl Ruidíaz, who has three goals in two previous Audi MLS Cup Playoff matches, is the perfect player to finish off chances created by Lodeiro.

Beyond the statistics, Lodeiro’s experience playing all over Europe and South America lends him the leadership capabilities necessary for a run to MLS Cup.

“The decision to make him captain is certainly a big one,” Schmetzer noted prior to the start of the 2019 season. “I think Nico has the respect of all the players, and it was a fairly easy decision for me to make.”

Utility midfielder Cristian Roldan, named to the Opta Best XI for the regular season, has enjoyed yet another breakthrough campaign. Jordan Morris, who sparked the run that culminated in lifting the 2016 MLS Cup trophy, has been resurgent in 2019. Seattle’s Homegrown winger has produced his best-ever season, bagging 10 goals and 7 assists while adjusting to a new role.

Morris celebrates his goal in Seattle's 4-3 win over the LA Galaxy at CenturyLink Field on on September 1 | Lindsey Wasson

“He’s scaring people,” Schmetzer said after the win over the New York Red Bulls on September 15. “He’s scaring defenders. When he collects the ball, whether it’s out wide on the touch line or in the little pockets in midfield, and he turns and start running at guys. I mean, guys are afraid of him.”

Ever since he pulled off ‘The Save’ in the 2016 MLS Cup final, Stefan Frei’s name has been synonymous with stepping up when called upon in the biggest moments. The 33-year-old goalkeeper, who has 84 shutouts and 999 saves across his MLS career, has helped steady group that has been forced to play matches while missing up to 10 players through international call-ups and injury.

Frei isn’t the only player that has stepped up in the near constant roster rotation throughout the season.

“Each player on this roster has participated in this season in some way, shape or form,” Sounders FC Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said after the 1-0 win against Minnesota United on October 6. “So, I’m very proud of the entire organization… We’ve lost some big pieces to our squad. But those guys in there don’t quit. They don’t give up.”

In Chad Marshall’s absence, Román Torres has provided a dominant influence in the back, a role he reprised in Sunday’s win over Minnesota. Kim Kee-hee put together another solid season, despite having five different center back partners at various points. Gustav Svensson, now a regular with the Swedish national team, has had arguably his best-ever MLS campaign, putting in strong individual performances while also shepherding in a new generation of defensive midfielders in Jordy Delem and Danny Leyva.

Left back is a problem area for most teams around the world. Yet the Sounders boast the likes of Joevin Jones, Brad Smith and Nouhou, three players that could be starters on most teams in MLS.

No matter what comes the Sounders’ way in the postseason, they’ll be ready. They’ve been there before. They’ve seen it all. And with a roster filled to the brim with players prepared to supply match-winning performances when called upon, the team is built for this.