TUKWILA, Wash. — Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey swears this isn’t by design.
For a third straight year, the Sounders have stumbled out of the gate in the league, leaving them in a massive, seemingly insurmountable hole on the Western Conference table. And yet again, they look to be digging their way out thanks to a torrid run of form that has pushed them squarely back in the mix.
Although Seattle eventually played in back-to-back MLS Cups, Lagerwey says he understands the exasperation at the trend from portions of the Sounders fan base. However, the famously analytical GM also believes there were unique reasons for each slow start.
“I understand the optics,” Lagerwey said recently. “But I think there are really concrete reasons for why we got out of the gate slowly this time. I think we’ve addressed them, we’ve fixed them.
“I think there are really discrete, specific reasons why we started slow,” he continued. “I’ve touched on those. But to be clear, [last season], I think we had discrete individual reasons there [too]. This conspiracy theory that we’re set up to fail every spring, it’s not surprising that I don’t buy into it, but ’17 was a completely different set of circumstances as well. From the ’16 team we changed 13 players. When you try to integrate 13 players at one time, that takes time.”
The Sounders began 5-9-5 in 2018, in part because of a rash of injuries that ravaged their first-team roster, including a season-ending ACL tear to speedy forward Jordan Morris. There was also fatigue from two consecutive lengthy postseason runs, which left players just a six-week offseason to recalibrate and recover.
Even so, midfielder Cristian Roldan said players must find a way to mitigate those variables and avoid making these second-half surges necessary. After Sunday's 2-1 victory over FC Dallas, Seattle have now gone eight matches unbeaten.
“To see it come together, it’s very nice obviously, but we don’t want to put ourselves in this position every year,” Roldan said. “And unfortunately we have in the last three years. But next season, we need to ramp it up from the get-go. You want to be a title-contending team, put yourself in the best position possible to make a run and, at the end of the day, strive for the Supporters’ Shield because you not only put yourself in a better position [for the playoffs], but you win another trophy.”
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Time will tell if the Sounders can pull it off again this year, but at the moment they’re trending in the right direction. Going into Saturday's Western Conference home tilt against the LA Galaxy (4 pm ET | ESPN - Full TV & streaming info), Seattle are a blistering 6-0-2 over their last eight matches, leaving the Sounders just three points shy of the red line.
At the moment, the focus is on making sure the current run can lead to another playoff place, but head coach Brian Schmetzer echoed Roldan’s sentiment.
“We don’t want to do [this] ever again,” Schmetzer said on Tuesday. “So, we’ll work on it and make sure we’re sharp for the start of next season.”