For the third season in a row, the Seattle Sounders enter the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
However, Seattle’s place in the standings and points on the table fail to capture the true story of the season. It’s a journey that, while tumultuous at times, leaves the Rave Green built for a run in the postseason.
After years of slow starts to the MLS regular season, Seattle came flying out of the gates with a 5-0-1 record and +9 goal-differential midway through April. It was the best start in club history.
After a 4-1 defeat at the hands of LAFC, the Sounders fired off a six-match unbeaten streak, including a 1-1 draw with the Black & Gold while playing down a man for 70 minutes, a come-from-behind 2-2 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes, and a point in Philadelphia with a heavily rotated team playing on short rest.
“I can’t ask for anything more from my guys,” Sounders FC Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said after the 0-0 draw at the Philadelphia Union, which put the team on 26 points after 13 matches. “We flew out on two-days rest and for them to put on a performance like that, and some guys who played all three games, it was a monster performance.”
The team’s form took a dip after that, as injuries, international call-ups and the retirement of defensive stalwart Chad Marshall shook the foundation of the club. Although Seattle suffered three straight losses to Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas and the Montreal Impact, players up and down the roster garnered immeasurable experience during that run.
At various points in the summer, as well as the international window in early September, Seattle’s First Team was missing up to 11 players due to international duty.
“This club traditionally has been very resilient,” Schmetzer said after the 3-2 loss at home to SKC in August. “We have been able to overcome a lot of obstacles. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
That sentiment has rung true all season. After the three-match losing streak at the end of May, Seattle rebounded with stoppage time victories over the Columbus Crew and Vancouver Whitecaps. When the team dropped points against SKC, the New England Revolution and at the LA Galaxy, they responded with thrilling victories over the Portland Timbers, Galaxy and New York Red Bulls.
The team celebrates Kelvin Leerdam's game-winning goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps at CenturyLink Field | Charis Wilson
Disappointing results at home against FC Dallas and away to D.C. United put Seattle’s 2019 campaign in a precarious position. But once again, the team fought through adversity, securing maximum points with a pair of 1-0 results in must-win games at the San Jose Earthquakes and at home against Minnesota United.
“All these games hurt, but they actually fuel the competitive fire that’s in every one of those players in there,” Schmetzer said in reference to dropped points at home after the FC Dallas match. “It fuels us as coaches to make sure that we do our jobs, to make sure we give the players the right tools to be successful… Because that’s what this franchise is all about, it’s about winning, and as long as I’m here that’s not gonna change.”
The true measure of this Sounders group is that they’ve demonstrated they can pick up important wins when missing key players. And that when healthy, they are one of the most dangerous attacking teams in all of MLS.
Not only is the team healthy, but several players have clearly emerged better players after fighting through adversity all season.
Gustav Svensson has been imperious of late, dominating the midfield and playing an underrated role in possession. Cristian Roldan has developed into a true all-action, box-to-box player, while Jordan Morris has repeatedly proven he is a match-winning player in this league, particularly on the wing.
With a career-high 1,439 MLS minutes, Jordy Delem has become a steady, reliable influence in midfield, while Harry Shipp put together his most productive season since 2015. And when Román Torres, who put in a dominant display against the Loons on Sunday, was serving his ten-game suspension, Xavier Arreaga proved that he can be an elite central defender in MLS.
“I’m amazed all the time [by this group of players] about the drive and determination to be a winning team, a winning franchise,” Schmetzer said after the win in San Jose. “We were going over the stats the other day. Since 2009, [we have] the most points [of any MLS club]. 11 consecutive seasons into the playoffs.”
No matter what hardships come their way in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Sounders will be ready. The depth has been tested, and key players have shown they can elevate their performances when called upon. As they’ve shown time-and-time again, the Sounders will pick up results when their backs are against the wall.
2019 has been a trying campaign for the Sounders. But it’s left the team built for the postseason.