SEATTLE – It wasn’t supposed to end like this for the Seattle Sounders.
Coming into the Audi 2018 MLS Cup playoffs, the Sounders were arguably the hottest team in MLS – winners of 14 of their final 16 matches and architects of a nine-game winning streak from July to September that broke the single-season league record.
Even with a tough Western Conference Semifinals rivalry matchup with the Portland Timbers first up on the playoff docket, the vibe around Seattle’s training sessions at Starfire Sports Complex exuded a quiet confidence – the prevailing feeling being that if there were ever a team set to make a run at what would have been the club’s third straight trip to the MLS Cup final, this was a group that could manage the feat.
Instead, Seattle’s mojo finally ran out, as the Timbers managed a 2-1 victory in the first leg of the Semifinals series at Providence Park on Sunday before prevailing on penalty kicks in Thursday’s second leg at CenturyLink Field.
It was certainly a painful way to end their 2018 campaign, but with the Sounders playing in many contests over the past couple of seasons where they’ve been forced to scramble to salvage results at the end of games, forward Will Bruin said it finally caught up to them this season.
“This year it got us,” Bruin told reporters after Thursday’s match. “You can’t always be pulling it out at the end and be scrambling to get the result because eventually things like this are going to happen. It’s great when you can pull it off, but the soccer gods weren’t with us tonight and that’s the way it is. It definitely hurts.”
Thursday’s match was an instant classic, featuring a back-and-forth second half that saw the clubs combine for three goals to send the series into extra time. It got even crazier during the added half-hour, with Portland’s Dairon Asprilla and Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro each scoring an additional goal to force the shootout.
“I can definitely say it was absolutely the craziest [game I’ve played],” Sounders defender Jordan McCrary said.
Added goalkeeper Stefan Frei: “For a neutral fan, a very good game to watch. For us, it’s going to sting a little bit.”
Still, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said once the dust settles, his 2018 group has plenty of accomplishments of which to be proud. The nine-game winning streak was a remarkable feat – one that will be hard-pressed to be challenged in seasons to come.
With a core that features Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz and forward Jordan Morris ostensibly returning from a torn ACL injury that cost him this entire MLS season, there’s also reason for optimism about the future.
“Obviously we didn’t achieve our objective,” Schmetzer said. “That’s number one. But after you say that statement, because that’s a fact, you also add some other facts to the narrative of the team: Nothing can take away [winning] nine games in a row in a league where there is parity. There’s some teams that are bottom of the table and have their challenges, but MLS is a tough league. It’s growing, teams are entering, money is entering and it’s a hard, hard league and that team right there put nine games in a row together.
“They put together statistically the best half of a season ever in Major League Soccer history at 14-2-1,” he added. “So you cannot take that away from that group. But, again, what I would say is each one of those guys would trade both of those records to be continuing to play.”