TUKWILA, Wash. – For a team that won their first-ever MLS Cup title less than a year ago, the Seattle Sounders aren’t exactly a trendy pick to replicate the feat.
Ahead of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup playoffs, the league’s defending champion find themselves as something of a postseason afterthought as they continue to jostle for seeding in a log-jammed Western Conference.
But these Sounders also might just be better suited to make a deep playoff run this year than they were a season ago. While last season’s improbable championship was defined by gutsy postseason performances from grizzled veterans – many of whom played through injuries -- midfielder Cristian Roldan says the overall depth featured on this year’s roster is arguably superior.
“This year, we have Victor [Rodriguez], we have Lamar [Neagle], we have Harry [Shipp], those guys are all quality and can be put into the lineup at any point,” Roldan told reporters after a training session at Starfire Sports Complex this week. “Going into the playoffs, you need those guys. …It’s a bit different [than last year] for sure because I think we have [stronger] players throughout our roster.”
On top of that, the Sounders also stand to regain the services of some valuable reinforcements in the coming weeks. Second-year forward Jordan Morris (hamstring) and team captain Osvaldo Alonso (quad) are both on the mend from their respective injuries, with an eye on a return ahead of the postseason.
Assuming both come back at full-strength, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer should have as healthy a crop of players to choose from as he’s had all season.
“We’re missing two really, really big guys on our team [right now],” said Roldan. “Ozzie is the heart of our team and Jordan, with his speed and commitment and [one of the] young guys we have. Those two guys make our team so much better.”
The biggest key to making their repeat dreams a reality, Schmetzer said, is finding consistency over a two-leg series on the heels of a season that has seen his team flaunt some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies – looking like world-beaters in some games and struggling mightily to score goals in others.
“I think the only consistency we’ve had this year is we’ve been a hard team to beat,” Schmetzer said this week. “Maybe there’s a couple of games in there where we had international [absences] where we didn’t have good results, but over the course of the season through now, I think we’ve been hard to beat. So, in a two-game series that comes into play a little bit.”
Of course, the Sounders still have to lock up a postseason berth first for any of this to become relevant, with two home matches on the docket against a struggling FC Dallas side (Sunday | 7:30 pm ET | FS1, MLS LIVE in Canada) and the Colorado Rapids to close out their regular season.
If that comes to fruition, it’s still doubtful that many national pundits will pick them to hoist a second-consecutive championship trophy. But for a battle-tested side that should be nearing full-strength at the right time, the Sounders also have plenty of reasons to feel like they have as good a chance as anybody.
“The way this league is built, you can have the best regular season but in the playoffs it’s anybody’s game,” Schmetzer said. “To be fair, Toronto is the odds-on favorite. But in a one-game final, anything can happen.”