The roller-coaster ride: Seattle Sounders still struggling with absences, but future is looking bright

TUKWILA, Wash. — The first few months of the Seattle Sounders season have been anything but smooth.

There was the five-game winless run to open the season, an upset of Tigres UANL in CONCACAF Champions League, a six-match unbeaten streak, a 4-0 blowout loss to the LA Galaxy and being upset by the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the third round of the US Open Cup.

Somehow, the Sounders have still managed to get off to the second best 12-match start in franchise history and a win on Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps (10:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network/LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com) would leave them just two points off the best-ever pace they set last season through 13 matches.

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“The nicest way to put it is that it's been a frustrating first few months,” Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer told MLSsoccer.com. “It definitely has felt like a roller-coaster. I often say that a big part of my job is to not be along for the roller-coaster ride and try to see things a little more rationally and holistically. Even I have had a hard time this season keeping my bearings.

“That said, if after the first five games, I'd have said at 12 games we'll be 5-4-3, everyone would have thought I was crazy and certainly would have been ecstatic with that.”

What changed is hard to pinpoint. The Sounders have gotten a little healthier but still haven’t managed to put out the same group of starters in any two matches, as injuries, suspensions and international absences have made fielding a consistent lineup virtually impossible.

Those issues have come back in a big way, with the Sounders missing six potential starters this week.

The hope is that they have at least learned from past experience.

“There’s no mentality change, it’s just a chance for guys to step up,” said Sounders midfielder Servando Carrasco, who’s poised to make his career-high seventh consecutive start. “We know we have guys missing, but we have a very deep squad.”

Starting alongside Carrasco will likely be Andy Rose, possibly one of the poster children for those early struggles. He started the Sounders’ first three games of the season and played in every game of their season-opening five-game winless run.

But he looked solid in 69 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s win over Chivas USA, marking his first league appearance in nearly a month.

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“We got off to a slow start as a team and I certainly felt like I put a lot of that on myself,” Rose told MLSsoccer.com “When you lack a little bit of confidence your game goes down and that was a big learning curve for me, getting that confidence back, getting my touch back, getting my vision back, all those things that you need to rely on. Lately it’s been nice to see all that hard work pay off.”

Perhaps because of the roller-coaster nature of this season, the Sounders are careful not to talk about anything being accomplished yet. But there’s an undeniable sense that the second part of the season could promise even better things.

“I feel like we're starting to get onto the right patch,” Hanauer said. “Still have a lot of work in front of us. Still need to get a lot better to compete for a championship. But a month ago we were talking about just getting ourselves into a playoff spot.”

As always seems to be the case, that’s the least the Sounders are once again expecting.