The most unfamiliar of seasons has produced a familiar result.
A year that has been almost unrecognizable has resulted in something we’ve all grown accustomed to.
Few things have seemed normal over the past eight months, but this particular thing is.
The Sounders — once again — are in the Western Conference finals.
Seattle has now reached this stage for the fourth time in the past five years. Amid coaching changes, critical injuries and painfully slow starts to seasons, the club has been a study in postseason consistency.
On Tuesday night it was a 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Lumen Field that catapulted the Sounders to MLS’ final four. But it is the regularity of this achievement that stands out today.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer has been at the team’s helm for each of these playoff runs. On Tuesday he credited the players, members of the organization and the fans — even with their in-stadium absence this year because of COVID-19 restrictions — for their success.
In MLS, It’s a level of consistency unique to Seattle, and you can rest assured the coach is proud of what his team has achieved for this city.
“Seattle is a winning sports town. I mean, you win, you have good fan support, the Seahawks do a good job, the Sonics when they were here, it’s always the same,” Schmetzer said. “And I’m just pleased as punch to be part of the process, and it’s been a very impressive way to kind of keep the train moving.”
In 2016, when Sounders coach Sigi Schmid was ousted midway through the season, Seattle rallied to the fourth Western Conference seed, reached the conference final, then went on to win the MLS Cup. The following season, when they won just two of their first 11 games, they snagged the second seed, reached the conference final, then lost in the MLS Cup. Last year they again earned the second seed, again reached the conference final, then won the MLS Cup.
This year? Who knows? But history should give fans optimism.
Of course, there was some doubt about whether the Sounders would conquer sixth-seeded FC Dallas on Tuesday. The match was scoreless at halftime, with FCD offering few chances for Seattle to get a clean look on goal.
It wasn’t until the 49th minute that the Sounders got on the scoreboard, as defender Shane O’Neill headed in a corner kick from midfielder Nico Lodeiro.
“In the first half, it was a 50/50 game. It was kind of hanging in the balance,” said O’Neill, who scored his first goal since 2014. “We were feeling the pressure, and at times they were feeling the pressure.”
FCD’s most intense pressure-application came in the 63rd minute, when attacker Fafa Picault drilled a shot that ricocheted off the left goal post. Teammate Andres Ricaurte then fired at the net on the rebound, only to have Sounders defender Yeimar save a sure goal with his foot.
The play reflected what was one of the scrappiest efforts of the season for the Sounders, who staved off all 10 of FCD’s shots.
“That might not have been the prettiest soccer game, that might not have been our best performance as a team, but that team gutted it out,” Schmetzer said. “I think I’ve stood in front of all you guys before and said that group of players finds different ways to win. And that’s what makes them champions, and that’s what gives them a realistic shot at winning trophies.”
Once again, the Sounders have a realistic shot at winning a trophy. They await the winner of Thursday’ night’s matchup between Minnesota United FC and Sporting Kansas City, the latter being the No. 1 seed in the West.
Schmetzer said he doesn’t care who the Sounders play, even if that means going on the road. They did, after all, knock off top-seeded LAFC in last year’s conference final in Los Angeles last year.
This organization seems to be built for the postseason. Here they are again. Unpredictable season — predictable result.