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Sounders find success can be fleeting

Just when it looked like the Seattle Sounders had it figured out, they fell flat on their faces.

The Sounders looked like they had fully recovered from a bad start to the season when they rattled off a 4-0-1 stretch after starting the year winless through five games. Even better, Seattle won two in a row in blowout fashion, beating San Jose 4-0, then knocking off first-place FC Dallas 4-2.

But just when you thought the Sounders were back on track, they fell to the Los Angeles Galaxy 4-0 last weekend, then traveled to Florida where they lost 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament in which Seattle has thrived in the past, winning three straight titles before losing in the championship game last year.

So now what?

Can the Sounders figure out how to be the dangerous team they were prior to this week, and not the team that started the year slow, then got drubbed in L.A. before losing to a lower-level opponent in the Open Cup?

“We can’t forget what got us back on the winning path,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said on a conference call. “We’ve got to go back to our roots of just working hard, competing for every loose ball, being quicker in closing people down, and just being better with the ball. We weren’t good with the ball against L.A., and that really hurt us, because we gave away possession too easily.”

When the Sounders were struggling early in the season, Schmid was at times critical of his team’s work rate. He wouldn’t say that was the issue in the last two losses, but he did indicate that some players may have gotten too comfortable with their recent success.

“The message to the team is that you can’t be complacent,” Schmid said. “You can’t think you’re there. The moment you think you’re there, something comes up and bites you in the rear end. You can’t be complacent. As players, you have to realize that you’re fighting for your job. Sometimes players think, ‘OK, well I’m secure, I’m safe.’ You’ve got to realize that you’re only as good as your last game.”

If there is a silver lining in the past week for the Sounders, it’s that their Open Cup elimination means the team can be fully focused on MLS play the rest of the year. In past years, the Sounders’ Open Cup success has meant the extra games and travel that can catch up to a team late in the season. Now, for better or worse, the Sounders have only league games to worry about.