After flying out the gates to start their 2023 campaign, Seattle Sounders FC haven't looked like the Seattle we're used to seeing over the past few weeks.
Coming off a comprehensive 2-0 defeat at Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC in Matchday 14, the Sounders have lost four of their last five matches across all competitions, getting eliminated from the US Open Cup and relinquishing their hold on the top spot in the Western Conference. The downturn in form has raised some questions about the Rave Green's long-term outlook, which the Extratime crew tackled on their latest episode.
The most obvious impetus for the recent slide, co-host Andrew Wiebe said, has been a rash of critical injuries, including midfielder Cristian Roldan, who hasn't played since April while working through concussion protocol.
"[Head coach Brian Schmetzer] was talking a lot about pressing cues, attitude on the field, off-the-ball movement, intangibles: And you're like, 'Everything he's saying is just Cristian Roldan in a nutshell,'" Wiebe said. "And that's not to put it on one player – like when Cristian Roldan comes back this team's gonna be all good. But maybe we have underrated even more so than he was before, because they just don't look the same team without him."
Roldan hasn't been the only absence Seattle have been forced to contend with, as star striker Raúl Ruidíaz, standout midfielder João Paulo, defender Nouhou, homegrown midfielder Josh Atencio and utility man Kelyn Rowe have all also found themselves sidelined at different points during the team's poor run of form.
Even so, Wiebe said the extent of the resulting struggles is surprising, given the depth the club has become known for over the years.
"You still expect sort of a baseline from this Sounders team of competitiveness, especially after their start," Wiebe said.
For his part, co-host Matt Doyle described himself as "zero percent worried" about the Sounders, agreeing that the solution might just be as simple as getting those key contributors healthy and fit.
"It's a long season and remember their season started a month before everybody else's because they played in the Club World Cup," Doyle said. "It's not surprising to see a dip, especially when you're missing so many big pieces and you've had to juggle so much. I'm zero percent worried about the Sounders. I think come middle of next month they'll probably start stringing wins together. They might go out and win Leagues Cup or something like that, especially when they get Roldan and Ruidíaz back.
"As people who have watched this team, last year was an aberration. We're not heading towards another version of whatever 2022 was. I would stake money on the Sounders finishing top-two in the Western Conference."
All told, the consensus from the group was that alarm bells shouldn't be sounding in the Pacific Northwest – at least not yet.
"The thing about Seattle in the past, like what we saw from Philly last year, was when they got on their roll, they get on their roll," said co-host David Gass. "And they really start to crush teams and teams feel like the spirit's out of them before they even show up, especially for Seattle home games. When Seattle's good ,that's who they are. And you add in, while they've had these injuries, they do have depth, so when they're good they can still rotate and keep performances going. But on the grit side, João Paulo's also been in and out. I think that's the other half."
For more Extratime analysis, check out the Matchday 15 preview episode via MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.