Seattle have proven a resilient group over the years. It's long been a hallmark of the club that head coach Brian Schmetzer often points to as an ingrained part of his team's ethos. But Sunday's task was a tall order for even the most mentally strong of teams as Seattle traveled to one of the league's most hostile venues in Children's Mercy Park, taking on a Sporting KC team that entered the match one point clear of the Sounders for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Those questions can be considered answered following Sunday's match, which saw the Sounders pull out a hard-fought 2-1 victory thanks to a first-half opener from Cristian Roldan and a 55th-minute game-winner from Will Bruin.
"Everybody wrote the story how we came up short against León and how are we going to bounce back mentally?" Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the game. "Well, our team just gave you guys the answer."
For a team with Seattle's ultimate aspirations, Roldan said that Sunday's result was a crucial one as they make a run at the No. 1 seed for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Seattle still have nine games left in their 2021 league season and are now two points clear of Sporting KC with a game in hand.
"I think after a disappointing result, we could have easily said, 'We're on short rest, we're away from home, it's going to be a difficult game'," Roldan said. "But I think the guys embraced the challenge, embraced the that it was going to be a difficult game. And you saw it in the first half, guys were bought in, willing to sacrifice a part of their game for the good of the team.
"It was a huge win. Obviously with the circumstances with Sporting being at the top with us, we felt like it was like a must-win – a six-point game if we wanted to win the Western Conference. We still think there's a lot of room to go up and down in the standings but if we want to achieve what we want to achieve, and that's get first in the Western Conference, we needed to win that game."
Added Bruin: "A lot of teams maybe would just say, 'Oh, a game in Kansas City after we lost a final, poor us', but I think this group stepped up and took it as a challenge and I think you saw that on the field and we were able to walk away with three points."
The mettle Seattle displayed on Sunday will continue to be tested, as the schedule doesn't let up from now until Decision Day on November 7. Another in-conference matchup in a tough road venue is coming up at PayPal Park against the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday (10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), followed by a home matchup against a Colorado Rapids side that has proven to be one of the most formidable contenders in the West at Lumen Field on October 3.
"The games don't stop," Roldan said. "We have another game against San Jose that's going to be difficult and then another game against a top Western side, so it's going to be difficult going forward but the boys are ready to embrace it."
As they head into the stretch run of the season, Schmetzer also indicated after the game that homegrown attacker Jordan Morris could indeed be nearing a return to the field. The 26-year-old has missed the entire season with a torn ACL he suffered while on loan in the English Championship with Swansea City, but has reportedly been making good progress on his recovery and could be cleared to rejoin full training after the match in San Jose.
Should the Sounders get Morris and injured midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro back toward the back end of the season, the Western Conference leaders could see a big boost come playoff time.
"Jordan's on a medical timeline." Schmetzer said. "Yes, I believe the plan is after the San Jose game to get him included in more of training, in full training. But even if he's in full training, he still has to go through the medical protocol. So, I know everybody would love to have Jordan on the field, but we have to follow the medical protocol. But the kid's doing great, he's champing at the bit to play, he sent everybody a congratulatory text on the group text. He's champing at the bit."