You can't quite put a tombstone on a team that has emerged from the shadows so spectacularly in each of the past two year. You can't quite write off a team yet to see the midpoint of this season. But you also can't ignore that it might take the greatest run in franchise history to...
Brian Schmetzer didn’t need to answer the question. The look on his face was more telling than any quote could have been.
After his team lost to its chief rival in front of 47,521 fans, the Sounders coach knew its improbable postseason chances had inched closer to impossible. Still, when queried about the crater his club found itself in 15 games into the season, Schmetzer responded.
“The current state of affairs is not good. We have to be realistic — it’s not good,” said Schmetzer, whose team fell to Portland 3-2 Saturday. “We’ve really put ourselves in a hole.”
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The Sounders are nearly halfway through a season in which they have accumulated just 12 points. That puts them in a tie for 10th place in the Western Conference, and 11 points behind Vancouver, which holds the final playoff spot.
Their 13 goals are a Major League Soccer low. Their once beaming star power has been reduced to a flicker. The club that bulldozed its way to the last two MLS Cups is unrecognizable.
More succinctly put: Things look pretty grim.
“I think we all need to be blunt with ourselves,” said Sounders goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, who started in place of the injured Stefan Frei. “We need to realize the place that we’re in, and it’s nobody but the guys in our locker room that can get it done for us and start getting some points.”
A win Saturday wouldn’t have been a panacea for Seattle (3-9-3), but it would have caused a smidgen of sunshine to peek through the overhanging cloud. It could have produced a modicum of momentum before taking on a Colorado team it is tied with in the standings.
Instead, the Sounders suffered a gut-punch despite cheers from their largest crowd of the season. They had their highs almost immediately extinguished by a Timbers team that answered each Seattle goal within six minutes.
There’s a reason Schmetzer said, “this one is going to sting for a long time.” It may very well have torpedoed the season.
Of course, not all hope seemed lost in the Sounders locker room. Midfielder Cristian Roldan mentioned that his squad has been in this situation before, specifically referencing the last two seasons.
Though it’s true that Seattle turned slow starts into remarkable runs in 2016 and 2017 … something just feels different this time.
For one, the Sounders had 19 points through 15 games last year and 16 the year before. There were also two fewer teams in the conference, making the postseason more feasible.
But they also had a healthy Jordan Morris, who is out for the year with a torn ACL. And they had a far more productive Clint Dempsey, who has scored just one goal this year. The addition of designated player Raul Ruidiaz, who can start playing with the team July 15, will likely provide a boost. But it’s equally likely that that boost will be too late.
You can’t quite put a tombstone on a team that has emerged from the shadows so spectacularly in each of the past two year. You can’t quite write off a team yet to see the midpoint of this season. But you also can’t ignore that it might take the greatest run in franchise history to sneak Seattle into the postseason.
Schmetzer stressed Saturday that his team isn’t giving up. Roldan echoed the statement, as did his teammates. Whether the players actually believe their words, there was still plenty of optimism circulating the locker room.
Still, let’s call Saturday what it was: An uppercut that sent the Sounders to the canvas. They’ve bounced back from blows before — but few were quite as hard as this one.