TUKWILA, Wash. – After another slow start, it seems as though a switch has flipped once again for the Seattle Sounders.
After starting their MLS Cup title defense a lackluster 5-7-5, the Sounders are currently one of the league’s hottest teams, unbeaten in eight consecutive matches and tied with Sporting Kansas City, the Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers atop the Western Conference table with 37 points. It’s a similar trajectory to Seattle’s 2016, which saw the club get off to a brutal 6-12-2 start before embarking on a historic turnaround that ended in their MLS Cup penalty kick triumph over Toronto FC.
Last season, many Sounders players pointed to a midseason 3-1 road blowout of Orlando City SC as an obvious turning point – the game that kick-started the torrid run that would follow. So, is there a 2017 equivalent that can be pointed to as the catalyst for their current hot streak?
“That’s an interesting question,” head coach Brian Schmetzer said this week. “I would probably say in this season there are a couple games that reminded me of how good this team can be.
“Against D.C. United [on July 19] we came back [from a 3-0 deficit] and won. We had New England [on April 29], a game where we were down [3-0 and came back to draw] and the competitive spirit was still there. But I don’t know if I could say one game.”
Forward Clint Dempsey has also pointed to those two wild comeback results against New England and D.C. as standout moments. Asked the same question, though, midfielder Cristian Roldan had a bit of a different outlook.
“Maybe it was the Gold Cup, honestly,” Roldan told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I think the Gold Cup just catapulted our team. We played Colorado [on July 4] and ended up winning 3-1 and it was just a rotation of different guys coming in and doing their part. I think the Gold Cup was honestly good for our team. People may disagree with me but missing a couple guys and knowing the next guy can fill in was such a positive for us.”
Like Schmetzer, goalkeeper Stefan Frei said that runs like these are tough to attribute to individual games or moments. But he did cite Seattle’s 2-2 draw against the Timbers at Providence Park on June 25 as the type of game that can spearhead a hot streak.
In that match, the Sounders were down a man for the entire second half and trailed 2-1 in the game’s waning moments until Dempsey dramatically equalized with charging header at the death.
“In that game, we’re down in a hostile environment, against Portland,” Frei said. “We’re down a man for 45-plus [minutes]. Historically it’s always been difficult for us to go down there and get something out of games. We’re battling for that whole game and we never gave up.”
Regardless of when it started, the Sounders’ focus at the moment is on figuring out how to keep their current streak going. An objective for future seasons, Frei said, will be trying to start faster so similar bounce back runs aren’t required.
“It’d be nice, for once, to just start the season on fire,” Frei said. “But I think we have enough veterans to know in this league, every team will go through ups and downs.
“There will be cold and hot streaks and the challenge is to make the cold streaks disappear as quickly as possible and maximize the hot streaks as long as you can. That’s what we’re trying to do with this hot streak right now.”