SEATTLE — Coming off a 75-day stretch in which the Seattle Sounders played 19 competitive matches across three separate competitions in six different countries, maybe a letdown on Saturday at home against the Philadelphia Union was somewhat predictable.
That the Sounders were in the midst of a particularly successful run that had seen them go 12-2-2 in all competitive matches, clinch a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs, book their spot in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals and win their third straight US Open Cup may have only made the somewhat sluggish performance inevitable.
Opinions in the postgame locker room varied on just how much of a role all of that played into the 2-0 loss — just the second time all season, and the first time at home, the Sounders had lost by more than one goal. But veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller had no doubt in his mind that the game was a letdown and did not seemed pleased about it.
“That's all part of the game,” said the veteran ‘keeper, one of the few players to turn in a solid performance in the defeat. “As a professional, you have to be ready for stuff like this. You have to be able to compartmentalize your season. You have to say, 'Tuesday night was great, now I have to get ready for Saturday.'
“You're going to have a lot of time in November, December, January to go celebrate or commiserate on what you did for the last eight months, so it's frustrating for everybody. Obviously, we had a lot of fans go home that weren't happy. Everybody leaving this locker room isn't going to be happy.”
Significantly more important than the loss — which officially ended whatever hopes the Sounders had of winning the Supporters’ Shield — is where the team goes from here. There are two matches remaining the MLS regular season, a CCL match that will likely decide the winner of the Sounders’ group and then, of course, the MLS Cup playoffs.
Even though Seattle are now effectively locked into the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference – Real Salt Lake can still pull even on points, but they currently trail the Sounders by eight goals in the first relevant tiebreaker — Keller wants to make sure his teammates are not putting it into cruise control.
“Looking at what some teams have done below us and maybe chucked it in a little bit, but other teams are fighting for their playoff positions,” he said. “We're too good for that. We have too good [a group] of individuals, too good of a team as a collective to just say, 'Alright, don't worry about it, we're in the playoffs,' because we're better than we are today."
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid was even a little optimistic that a loss like this could serve as an important pre-playoff wakeup call.
“I played on a team at UCLA where we used to kill everybody all the way through the playoffs,” Schmid said in his postgame comments. “We didn't know what the pain of losing felt like and then, all the sudden, we get to the playoffs and we lose the NCAA title game because we had never gone through that pain of losing. So sometimes the pain of losing is the best motivator of all."