There’s an array of words that coaches and athletes use ad nauseam, but the most frequent might be consistency.
That’s the difference between a great play and a great game. Or maybe the difference between a great season and a great career. Most players at the highest level can do something spectacular once, but how many can delete that moment from their memory and focus on doing it again?
Consistency really is the divider between sports’ haves and have nots — the difference between filling seats and falling short.
And around these parts — is there any team more consistent than the Sounders?
Not only has Seattle’s soccer team made the playoffs in all 11 of its MLS seasons, it has reached the semifinals in four of the past six years. The Sounders have never had a losing season, have reached two of the past four MLS Cups, and have brought home an MLS title along with the Supporters’ Shield for best regular season.
Yes, sometimes they stumble out of the gate — or take half a season to realize the gate is even open. But whatever maze they create for themselves, they always seem to manage to get back to the same spot.
In 2016, the Sounders fired coach Sigi Schmid midway through the season and got just 17 games out of star forward Clint Dempsey. Didn’t matter, they won the MLS title. In 2017, the Sounders won just two of their first 11 games. Didn’t matter, they reached the MLS final. Last year, the Sounders won just four of their first 18 games and were without homegrown forward Jordan Morris. They went on to win 14 of their next 16 in a year that featured a nine-game winning streak and a 12-game streak without a loss.
They’re basically the razor-sharp dog that wandered off 10 miles from home. The fear is that you’ll never see him again, but he always finds his way back.
It’s a pretty sweet payoff for fans who invest in what’s usually the longest team-sport season in America. There’s not much of an offseason for anyone in MLS, but that’s particularly true of the Sounders.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that the club joined MLS in 2009, one year after the worst year in Seattle sports history. It was in 2008 that the Seahawks went 4-12, the Mariners went 61-101, the Huskies went 0-12 and the Sonics went to Oklahoma City.
The Sounders weren’t world-beaters in that inaugural season, but they still went 12-7-11 while reaching the MLS quarterfinals. Now in a league that comprises 24 teams, they’re back in the semifinals and might host their first MLS Cup if they win.
Of course, to do that, they would have to knock off what may be the greatest team in MLS history. Los Angeles FC’s 72 points were more than any team has ever had in the regular season, and its +48 goal differential was 27 better than any other team in MLS and 45 better than the Sounders. On paper, this looks like Raid vs. cockroach, but Seattle has a history of surprising.
After the Sounders beat Real Salt Lake in the quarterfinals Wednesday, their coach, Brian Schmetzer, talked about critics calling his team “old and tired,” but quipped that they simply are “experienced.” With players such as Morris, goalkeeper Stefan Frei, midfielders Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan, and defender Roman Torres — all of whom were on that championship team — that experience could help.
It’s true that LAFC is loaded with talent. It’s true that Banc of California Stadium provides an immense advantage, too, as LAFC has lost just one game there this season. But it’s also true that, somehow, the Sounders find a way.
Hearing athletes and coaches talk about consistency may be tired, but Seattle’s soccer team embodies it. Its seasons are regularly full of surprises. Its end results rarely do.