One of the most renowned streaks in MLS history has come to an end.
For the first time ever, the Seattle Sounders will miss the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, ending a league-record 13-year run of consecutive postseason appearances.
“It just wasn’t good enough, today and in some of the games down the stretch,” said head coach Brian Schmetzer, speaking to the FS1 broadcast following Sunday's 1-0 road defeat to Sporting Kansas City on the penultimate matchday of the season.
“We just didn’t play up to our potential and, you know, I’ll accept responsibility for that. That’s our job as coaches to give them the tools to be successful."
Still a successful season?
For a club that’s only been accustomed to playoff soccer, missing out on the postseason will inevitably sting. However, it was just some five months ago that the Sounders topped Liga MX's Pumas UNAM to become the first-ever MLS club to win the modern incarnation of Concacaf Champions League.
“This season, we’re going to call it a success because we’re the first MLS team to win the Champions League. But look, at the end of the day, right now, what everybody feels is a letdown,” said Schmetzer. “We’re not in the playoffs and that for our club is, you know, the feeling everyone has in their stomach right now. Right now we’ll try and process this … but it will take me some time to really figure out: was the season a success or was it not?”
Veteran goalkeeper Stefan Frei bluntly agreed with his head coach’s assessment.
“To taint such a historic positive with a historic negative is tough to swallow,” said Frei post-game. “We won the [CCL] early on, and I think at that point we made a conscious decision … to put a lot of effort, and a lot of work, and a lot of months of blood, sweat and tears, but it wasn’t enough. And that’s very frustrating because that means it’s about five months of work and nothing to show for it, and then on top of it … it just taints that positive that we had early on. It’ll be a tough one to swallow.”
While both Frei and Schmetzer seemed to agree that the team was never able to reach its full potential after the CCL run, Sounders captain Nicolas Lodeiro believed that the club’s historic triumph earlier in the season only papered over the cracks of some deeper-lying issues.
“There were many mistakes, not only [in] the game; the game is one of the most physical side of the mistakes,” Lodeiro said. “There are other mistakes that are happening, at the player level, at the coaching staff level, and at the club level itself. And it happens to be that the CCL that we achieved was able to cover many of these mistakes.
“But the way that I see it, the hope is that what just happened is going to help us out [to] uncover many of these things and help us out for the future of our club.”
Changes to come?
When you're a club as successful as Seattle – reaching the MLS Cup Final in four out of the last six seasons, and winning twice – continuity is often the best recipe for success.
But when it doesn't go right, you look for certain things you can tweak, as Schmetzer hinted that changes may be on the horizon.
“For me personally, certainly this hurts,” the manager said. “It certainly isn’t up to the standard of this club, and again, it’s my job to give the players tools to be successful. Having said all of that, I can’t give you a definitive answer as to what went wrong.
“Maybe there needs to be a little bit of change in the roster, that always happens, that’s normal. We’ll get some fresh faces in, we’ll continue to develop the young players because I don’t push this on any of the young players – this disappointment. The young players have come along fine. But we’ll certainly as a staff start working on that when we get back home... We’ll come back, and we’ll start working on that right away because the Club World Cup is going to come up on us pretty fast.”
Whether it’s changes to the roster or otherwise, the Sounders will need to get back on track sooner rather than later as they’ll prepare to enter a place no MLS team has ever been before: the FIFA Club World Cup. The dates, locations, and opponents are still to be determined – as is who exactly will be on Seattle’s roster come the start of the prestigious tournament.
For the first time in a long time, there’ll be several players on the reigning CCL champions squad that will be using the final game of the season – vs. San Jose Earthquakes (5 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) – to show that they still belong and deserve to remain with one of the most storied franchises in MLS history.
“This season is over for us, but in a way the next season starts right now,” said Frei. “We have one more game to play for the badge, to show what we can do, to play for jobs, to play for some honor in front of our fans, so you can kind of sweep this one into an early, early, early preseason game for next year, because this one’s over. We’re mathematically out.
“But we’re definitely not going to throw that game … the last few months have not been very satisfying and maybe we can at least give our fans a good game to go out on this season.”