Disappointment is a fact of life. Achievements inevitably fail to meet expectations even for the best of us. That said, calling the Seattle Sounders’ 2018 season a disappointment so far would be putting it way, way too lightly.
The Sounders have staggered out to a 1-4-1 record in MLS play, with a mere five goals scored (all those in only two games) against nine goals allowed (much more evenly distributed, stupid subpar socialist defense). Injuries (Jordan Morris, Osvaldo Alonso, Victor Rodriguez, etc.) and suspensions (Clint Dempsey, Kelvin Leerdam, Tony Alfaro) have made it difficult for the Sounders to get their best players on the field, leaving the boys in Rave Green sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference table. The good news is that the Sounders are still only six points off a playoff spot, with plenty of the season left to play.
With that in mind, here are three ways the Sounders can turn around their season:
1. Unleash the Speed
In soccer, there are three types of speed: speed of thought, physical speed, and speed of play. The Sounders have plenty of players with speed of thought and speed of play, but are severely lacking in physical speed in the attack (the kind that DeAndre Yedlin and Obafemi Martins once provided). With Henry Wingo and Handwalla Bwana the only real speedsters on the team, the Sounders need to find ways to get them on the field. Coach Brian Schmetzer needs to get creative. Put Wingo in as a central midfielder. Try Bwana as a striker. Stack one atop the another in a trench coat (Vincent Adultman style) to make the world’s tallest goalkeeper. Anything. Either one of them will at least keep opposing defenses honest, forcing the opposition deeper so the other Sounders attackers have more space to create.
2. Don’t Live in the Past
Ultimately you can set up whatever tactics you want, but the players on the field have to perform. At 35, Dempsey has not looked as though he can consistently go for 90 minutes any longer. His best role is now as a spark off the bench, but Schmetzer has to have the courage to put him there. Schmetzer also needs to stop giving minutes to Lamar Neagle, unless there is an emergent need for him. The Tacoma-born Neagle is a local sentimental favorite, but doesn’t have the physical or technical skills to make an impact any more (more turnovers than a pastry shop). Certainly respect what Dempsey and Neagle have done for the Sounders, but don’t revere them so much you overlook younger players.
3. Sign a Striker
Ever since Morris went down in February with a torn ACL (pray to the old gods and the new for his speedy return), the Sounders have needed a striker. After Seyi Adekoya’s departure, Will Bruin seems to be the Sounders’ solitary striker option, with Neagle being the “break in case of emergency” option. The MLS secondary transfer window doesn’t open until July 10, and with no signing on the horizon, the Sounders might be forced to sit through two months with only one actual striker on the roster (in sports, that is what is called a bold move). If the organization wants to promote from within, it could sign striker Felix Chenkam from the Sounders’ USL team—the creatively named Sounders 2—who has been doing quite well at the lower level.
While the Sounders were able to make it in into the playoffs after slow starts in 2016 and 2017, the talent pool in MLS continues to grow. If the Sounders want to return to the playoffs, let alone to a third straight MLS Cup final, they need to start finding ways to win. Like now.