So what’s the state of the Sounders? 

As they approach their last match of the “first phase,” also known as the initial slate of games following the MLS is Back tournament in Florida, where do they stand? 

Are they the team that trounced reigning Supporters’ Shield winner LAFC 3-1 last month, when they scored the first three goals of the game in their return to CenturyLink Field? Are they the team that lost to archrival Portland 2-1 at home, where defensive miscues cost them a chance to climb into first place in the Western Conference? 

Like almost everything in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Trying to make any judgments about a team based on a game or two is usually futile.

“I said this to anybody who wants to listen, including the players yesterday, just about how challenging it is to win in the MLS and in pro sports in general,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We’re not perfect. … The MLS is a hard league, and it’s getting harder all the time.”  

Nine matches into their season, the Sounders sat in second place in the Western Conference entering Wednesday night’s games, two points back of Sporting KC. It is worth noting, though, that they have played one fewer match than Kansas City, and that a win Thursday night against San Jose would vault them into the top spot. 

That said, victories in either of their past two games also would have put them in first place, but a draw vs. Real Salt Lake and the aforementioned Timbers loss precluded that from happening. How do the players feel about that?

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Well, midfielder Cristian Roldan is ambivalent about that Portland game. On one hand, he is encouraged by the myriad opportunities Seattle had to score. On the other hand …

“It was a lost game,” Roldan said. “We did so well in the first half, where we maintained control. But it was a tale of two halves. As it got later in the game, we were more stretched and less disciplined than we were in the first half, and that was the cause of the second goal.” 

The second goal Roldan is referring to came when Portland’s Eryk Williamson found Felipe Mora for a one-touch goal in the 83rd minute. The goal came four days after Real Salt Lake tied the Sounders in the 85th minute, thus denying Seattle a victory. 

The late scores were consistent with a theme that has plagued the Sounders much of the season. While Schmetzer gives his team a massive amount of credit for being able to stick together during these unprecedented times, preventing goals has been an issue. 

“I don’t think we’ve defended well enough. I don’t just mean individually but collectively,” Schmetzer said. “I just don’t think we’ve been very consistent in our overall team defending.” 

And yet, here they are — right outside of first place with a chance to leap to the top. MLS is expected to announce the next phase of games later in the month. The expectation is that it will be eight matches, plus a makeup match for the one the Sounders protested in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting. 

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First, though, Seattle must deal with the San Jose Earthquakes and their unique man-to-man defense. 

Are they the only team in the league that man marks? I asked Schmetzer.

“They might be the only team on the planet that does that,” he replied. 

Schmetzer said this game likely will come down to which team can win the most one-on-one duels. This would seemingly favor the Sounders, who have top-tier scorers such as Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz, both of whom thrive in isolations. But when these teams met in Florida in July, it resulted in a 0-0 draw. 

Could home field make a difference? Possibly. While playing at CenturyLink didn’t seem to help the Sounders against Portland last game, Roldan still thinks playing in the 206 is a benefit, even if the stands are empty because of COVID-19 concerns.

“It’s still a home-field advantage,” Roldan said. “We don’t have the killer instinct that our fans give us, but it’s still a home-field advantage.”

Have you gotten used to not having fans yet?

I don’t think we’ll ever get used to that,” Roldan said. 

Perhaps more than ever, this has been a season of adjustments. And after failing to win in either of their past two games, it wouldn’t be a bad bet to think the Sounders will adjust vs. the Earthquakes.