Lack of toughness, maturity makes this a unlikable team that whines too much, wins too little.
Everything good that Sounders FC has done since its birth four years ago seemed designed for this run. The 2012 season would be the team’s Year of the Cup.
The Sounders made the dramatic trade for goal-making machine Eddie Johnson, and he was expected to link up with Fredy Montero to form one of the most dynamic scoring tandems in Major League Soccer. They would be the Wade and LeBron of American soccer.
In March the idea of a Fab Four — Johnson, Montero, Mauro Rosales, Alvaro Fernandez — was thrilling. The Sounders would be able to score from anywhere. They could finish better than any of their predecessors. It was easy to have visions of bunches of 3-nil wins.
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This was a team built to win something more than U.S. Open Cups. This was the best team money could buy.
But the Sounders haven’t lived up to their billing as they head into Wednesday night’s game at Real Salt Lake. This team that was built to win a title hasn’t won a league match since May 9. It is winless in its past eight MLS games.
The Sounders have been shockingly sloppy in the back. Yes, Saer Sene definitely was offside on the first New England goal Saturday night, but there were so many mistakes in Seattle’s central defense that the Revolution should have scored five goals in the 2-2 draw that felt like a loss.
More disturbing, the Sounders are playing without any fire, or any discipline. They have been intimidated by bigger and stronger teams like Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City, and they’ve reacted to that intimidation immaturely.
They have received three red cards, tying them with Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia for second-most in the league. They’ve had players suspended for six straight games and someone suspended in eight of the past 10.
It is a team that is as psychologically fragile as it is physically soft. It’s whining when it should be winning, and that whining started at the top.
Coach Sigi Schmid’s rant last month, saying he believed U.S. Soccer wanted a team other than the Sounders to win the Open Cup, was really bad form and reflected the team’s misplaced sense of entitlement.
This is the most talented team in the Sounders’ four-year MLS history, but it’s the least likable.
It’s almost as if the front office modeled its approach to building this team after the New York Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League: Gather up as much talent as possible and ask the coach to find a way to get them to play as a unit.
But the Sounders aren’t the Cosmos, and MLS isn’t the NASL.
MLS is a lunch-bucket league. The teams that win are, for the most part, workmanlike and unglamorous. Work rate trumps glitter. MLS is more bruising than beautiful.
These Sounders don’t get that. They’ve come into too many games looking smug, acting like all they have to do to win is show teams the names on the backs of their uniforms.
There is a leadership gap with this team. The Sounders have a character deficit in their locker room. They miss retired keeper Kasey Keller. Watching them this season, a fan wishes Keller would return, in the locker room and in goal.
Keller organized the back. He was the defensive coach on the field. The lingering hip injury to Keller’s would-be replacement, Michael Gspurning, is part of the reason for the disorganization. But it isn’t the only reason.
Besides Keller, the team also is missing Taylor Graham, Nate Jaqua, James Riley, Tyson Wahl and Mike Fucito, all important character guys. They understand what it takes to win in MLS. They are invested in the community and the league.
All the new Sounders, except for defender Marc Burch, don’t seem to share that sense of commitment.
On the field, Montero has reverted to his old now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t ways. He disappears for long stretches and he hasn’t linked well with Johnson. Fernandez has been wildly erratic when he’s gotten his chances to play, and it seems as if he’s always hurt.
This has been a remarkable franchise. It has given the city a lift when it needed it the most. Its following is as loyal as any Seattle has seen. And the bond between the community and the team is as solid as any in American sports.
This is franchise worth rooting for, but this is a team that has been hard to love. Someone needs to light a fire. A leader needs to emerge because the dream of an MLS Cup is fading fast.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org