So, you poured yourself a glass of haterade and watched MLS Cup. It’s expected for Sounders FC fans when the Portland Timbers have an opportunity to win the league championship.
There’s a sense of pride in one of the pair of Cascadia clubs representing the MLS’s Western Conference in the title game since 2015. And New York City FC winning the championship — the club’s first — might have cracked a few petty smiles for those in Rave Green.
The outcome being decided on penalty kicks, which was the same cruel finish that booted the Sounders from the opening round against Real Salt Lake in November at Lumen Field, likely limits the glee.
But back to Portland’s title loss Saturday at Providence Park. The match before 25,218 fans had all the fixings for a neutral viewer — impressive near chances, unruly crowd, dramatic finish and close-ups of fans suffering sporting heartbreak.
For the Sounders, history even says a Portland MLS Cup loss leads to a Seattle title win the following season. Seattle (2017) and Portland (2018) lost before the Sounders lifted the trophy in 2019. Seattle (2020) and Portland (2021) lost, so …
Now that the confetti has settled, what can the Sounders glean from the Timbers to get back on the winning side of Cascadia’s postseason dominance?
So, you’re saying there’s a chance
Down a goal, Portland pulled keeper Steve Clark from his line out of desperation in second-half stoppage time. Clark chased down a loose ball that ultimately resulted in a throw-in and moments later — with seconds left in regulation — the equalizer goal from Timbers striker Felipe Mora.
“The risk paid off,” Portland coach Gio Savarese said. “We came close in the overtime and unfortunately we didn’t find the second goal to be able to win this MLS Cup. So, I’m very proud of my staff, the organization, the team, the fans, the event.”
Seattle could be more daring in 2022.
A little creativity left in August when former assistant coaches Gonzalo Pineda and Djimi Traore vacated their Sounders posts. Pineda is now head coach of Atlanta United, leading the Five Stripes to a postseason appearance, while Traore is head coach for the Right to Dream’s international academy. The organization was founded to provide youth access to training and education.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer added former Real Salt Lake head coach Freddy Juarez and no one is forgetting the vast knowledge of longtime Seattle assistants Preki and Tom Dutra. But there is one slot open, and it likely would be best to fill it with a person who’ll challenge tradition. Someone who’ll bring fresh ideas or try wacky things, like oh, not taking a single shot at goal for 120 minutes because you’d rather test your luck in penalty kicks.
Schmetzer’s plans for the position are unclear.
“It might be,” Schmetzer said when asked if the staff was finalized. “We worked well at the end of the year — Freddy, Preki, Tommy and I. There’s still an opening on the staff and we will review that as the preseason gets planned. We’re working on it.”
Get yourself a healthy veteran
Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco, 33, was questionable after suffering a hamstring injury in the Western Conference semifinals. He was out the bulk of 2020 due to a torn ACL suffered in Seattle against the Sounders.
Blanco’s return and impact in the championship match, although subbing off in the 62nd minute, was reminiscent of the scoring opportunities Nico Lodeiro creates for the Sounders — when healthy.
Lodeiro, 32, had two knee surgeries this season. The club captain was only able to play the full 90 twice, the last being early September. Whether it was getting his footing or the new formation, Lodeiro couldn’t contribute this season like his previous five.
The positive is Lodeiro is expected to be fully healthy to open the 2022 season. While tactics aren’t known, Lodeiro paired with Joao Paulo in 2020 was intriguing. The latter has more experience in the league, which can only benefit Seattle.
The Sounders’ schedule will, again, be congested in 2022. And club leadership emphasized going all in, again, for CONCACAF Champions League, Leagues Cup and MLS postseason. That’s going to take depth and veterans in key positions.
“It was a successful season without any trophies won,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said after the RSL loss. “That’s hard to say because we expect so much as a club. We had to deal with a lot of injuries, guys in and out because of national teams, COVID, just a difficult year all together. The group came together. The amount of guys that played a part this year was, I think, unprecedented. So, although we didn’t win anything, I want to end this in the right way, in a positive way because we had to deal with a lot and the team came together, and we’re better for it.”
Win at home
An obvious point made clearer Saturday when NYCFC coach Ronny Deila stripped down to his briefs and did pushups on the Providence Park field after winning. Last year he promised a fan he would if the club won the Cup and Deila’s stripped after significant wins overseas in 2009 and 2013.
As University of Washington football fans learned in November, it’s best to win at home so opponents can’t do wild stuff on your turf.