It's the third consecutive season the Sounders have had an awful first half. The last two have ended with the club playing for the MLS Cup.
In case you haven’t been giving the pitch your full attention, there’s a soccer team in town that’s been barreling through opponents as though they were mere sparring partners. It hasn’t lost since June 30. It hasn’t so much as tied since July 15. And it just beat the Galaxy 5-0 on national TV Saturday.
In less than two months, the Sounders have gone from 12th place in the 12-team Western Conference to seventh, and are within two points of sixth, three points of fourth and four points of third.
Most of the time, such a profound turnaround for a professional sports team borders on the edge of paranormal.
For Seattle? Well, you can lose the “para” part.
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“I don’t know why we do this to ourselves,” said Sounders defender Chad Marshall, whose team has 10 regular-season games remaining. “No explanation.”
It really is wild to see how such a whimsical season can feed such a predictable narrative. Every year since 2016, the Sounders go from dead and buried to dead set on destruction. They’re like the WWE wrestler who gets beaten up for 20 minutes before a fit of rage turns him invincible.
In the last three years combined, only DC United has had a worse record during the first half of the season than Seattle. And yet, in the past years combined, Seattle has the best second-half record in the MLS.
If you’re a betting man, put your savings on this team somewhere between late June and early July. The Sounders spend the first few months of the season as Jekyll before making everyone else want to hide.
“They’re all good pros, all good guys, and they’ve all been tired of being at the bottom of the standings,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “There’s been a lot of adversity. They have overcome all those obstacles. That’s a testament to their winning tradition.”
Seattle’s struggles in 2016 forced management to fire coach Sigi Schmid and replace him with Schmetzer. A schematic change and the addition of forward Nicolas Lodeiro propelled the team to its first MLS Cup title a few months later.
A championship “hangover,” according to Schmetzer, was responsible for Seattle starting 5-10-2 last season, but it sobered in time to make it back to the MLS title game.
Still, the holes the Sounders found themselves in during the early parts of those seasons paled to the abyss they started this one in. A late-June loss to Portland pushed them into tie for last place just two games before the halfway point.
The look on Schmetzer’s face said more than anything that came out of his mouth during the postgame press conference. Then, the Seattle Popeyes collectively ate their spinach.
“We felt at that point, we couldn’t lose anymore. Especially not at home,” Lodeiro said. “We knew we couldn’t lose again, and after that one win, we got the confidence.”
What followed were nine straight games without a loss and a franchise-record six-game winning streak. The Sounders (10-5-9) have outscored their opponents 18-5 since that loss to the Timbers and beat first-place Dallas 2-1.
It doesn’t hurt that they signed star forward Raul Ruidiaz in mid-July. And they won’t complain about players such as Osvaldo Alonso, Kim Kee-hee, Victor Rodriguez and Lodeiro returning to health.
But there is also something that has awoken among these guys — a confidence that makes them feel as though they’re controlling the game with a video-game console.
“I think any time you wake up on a game day, you assume you’re going to win,” said Sounders midfielder Harry Shipp, who admitted he didn’t feel that way earlier in the year. “That assumption doesn’t mean that guys aren’t going to work hard. Because we started off the season so poorly, we’re kind of desperate. We have to work hard because we’re still fighting for a playoff spot. But when we do get to the stadium, we assume we’re going to win.”
If this streak continues, the Sounders should sail into the playoffs. And given how they’ve been playing, they can make probably make a deep run in the playoffs too.
You can call it an MLS resurgence for the ages. They’ll call it typical.