SEATTLE – So much for the “slow-start Sounders.”
For the better part of the last three seasons, the Seattle Sounders were known as perhaps the pre-eminent second-half team in MLS, limping out of the gate, only to embark on torrid surges to close out the season and salvage a playoff spot.
With their 3-2 victory over Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field on Saturday, Seattle may have officially put that pesky narrative to rest. The Sounders are now 5-0-1 in 2019 -- tying them with LAFC atop the Supporters’ Shield standings through six games – part of a run that has seen them log a blistering 20-2-3 record in MLS play since July 4.
Coming off a disappointing penalty shootout defeat to the Portland Timbers in last year’s playoffs, head coach Brian Schmetzer said after Saturday’s game he feels as though his team has come out of the gates this year with a point to prove, which could be one factor that has contributed to the strong early-season form.
“We’ve talked about the group being the same and Jordan [Morris’] inclusion in the group, but is it carryover? It was a long offseason,” Schmetzer said after Saturday’s match. “I would [credit] the veteran presence throughout that group, coupled with what they did last year in the sense that they knew they were very good and then they didn’t achieve their objective.
“The narrative with Toronto after [losing MLS Cup in] 2016 was they had something to prove,” he added. “I think being that good last year, had we gotten past Portland, I think we had as good a chance as anybody at getting to the final again. That little bit of motivation might have had some carryover.”
The Sounders managed Saturday’s victory in a high-scoring affair, despite playing without the services of star striker Raul Ruidiaz, who was held out for a second straight game with a heel contusion.
Will Bruin stepped up in his place and scored two of Seattle’s three goals, a cathartic performance for the 29-year-old veteran, who has seen his role on the team reduced since Ruidiaz’s arrival last July.
“Sometimes those conversations [with Schmetzer] are tough and we handle it like men,” Bruin said. “I always want to play whenever I can and he wants to put out a squad that will get three points. I understand that. It’s a business. My job is to when I get opportunities, score, and I’m glad I could do that.
“Staying mentally focused and prepared week in and week out and every day at training [is the most difficult part]. It is what it is, I just have to make sure I stay sharp. I’ve been staying sharp and hopefully that showed today.”
Bruin, who struck in the 24th and 66th minute on Saturday, came off late with a hamstring injury, telling reporters afterward that he was feeling better but would know more after he undergoes an MRI next week.
“I’m not ever going to take Will Bruin for granted,” Schmetzer said. “I have had many challenging conversations with him about how he fits within the squad and the underlying thing in every conversation with Will Bruin – and has made him the fifth-leading goal-scorer as far as active players are concerned [in MLS history] – is he’s all about being an honest guy, he always works, he always does what we ask him to do.”