In life, only three things are certain: death, taxes, and the Seattle Sounders finding their form in mid-July.
Like a clockwork phoenix, the Sounders overcame a woeful first half of the season and are currently on a nine-game unbeaten streak including a club-record six wins in a row. After being stapled to the bottom of the table, the Sounders currently sit seventh (of 12 teams) in the Western Conference—only two points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand on teams above them. They will be riding that hot streak into a huge match with the Portland Timbers, who, in contrast, are on a three-game losing streak. How did the Sounders get here? Well, let’s take a look.
New Kid on the Ball
The Sounders have needed a striker since Jordan Morris tore his ACL in the first game of the season, but Raúl Ruidíaz’s impact on the team since his June 29 signing cannot be overstated. In six games, he has two goals and an assist, but beyond that his movement has opened space for everyone to operate. The defense can finally breathe because they’re not defending for 90 minutes. Counter-attacks are more dangerous. Like a very nice rug, Ruidíaz doesn’t decorate a room all by himself, but certainly he ties it all together. He even got his own mural up on Capitol Hill. Not to mention the Sounders have won every game he’s played in since his July 21 debut. The scary thing for MLS is that for Ruidíaz, the best is yet to come.
Return From the Infirmary
At the beginning of this year, the injury bug was rampant. Victor Rodriguez, Clint Dempsey, Nicolás Lodeiro, Román Torres, Kelvin Leerdam, Osvaldo Alonso, and Jordan Morris were all on the injury list. The Sounders were an injury away from needing coach Brian Schmetzer to lace up the boots. Some of that may have had to do with carrying so many players over 30 on the roster (although Chad Marshall might be ageless; somebody check his house to see if he has an aging portrait hanging there). In MLS, anytime that much of your salary cap is on the injury list, it’s going to be a struggle. Fans can certainly fault the club for holding onto Dempsey and Alonso for what may be a year too long. But hindsight is 20/20 (both in Beanie Babies and in Pokémon cards). If the Sounders’ aging veterans can pour it on as they head into the playoffs, it will all be worth it.
Scoring Goals, Duh
Goals are the reason every soccer fan comes out to watch games. Even after this past weekend’s lopsided 5-0 win over the L.A. Galaxy, the Sounders have scored only 31 goals through 24 games—barely one a game (never mind that early games this season felt like a 90-minute forced march). However, through this unbeaten streak the Sounders have scored two goals a game. Saying that scoring is integral to the Sounders winning is not groundbreaking analysis, but sometimes it really is that simple. Bringing in a goal scorer like Ruidíaz certainly helps. Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan, and Will Bruin have all pitched in toward the goal total, which also speaks to the strength of this team (they can share!).
That for the third season running the Sounders have dug their own grave only to break open the casket and rise from the dead is certainly a worrisome trend. Half a season of good soccer isn’t a great way to get new fans. Yet the Sounders manage to pull off this trick every year. This offseason, playoffs or not, they need to work on getting younger and shedding some salary. Otherwise Sounders’ fans may begin to wonder if they are stuck in a time loop.