There’s a privilege only a few Major League Soccer teams get to enjoy. On the cusp of a first-round playoff match, the Sounders get to reflect on past championship runs, and draw on the invaluable experience of them.
Since their inception in 2009, the Rave Green lead MLS in total championships since 2009. The seven include two MLS Cup trophies (2016 and 2019), a Supporters’ Shield in 2014 and four U.S. Open Cup titles (2009-2011 and 2014).
It’s a haul that makes Sounders co-captain Nico Lodeiro hungry for more. “We always have to be motivated because we are representing a great team in the MLS,” he said.
Since joining the club in 2016, Lodeiro has helped the Sounders continue their run of never finishing lower than fourth place in the Western Conference standings. And Seattle’s stellar run includes a league-leading 12 consecutive playoff berths, with the team advancing to the league finals in three of the past four seasons.
Considering all of that hardware and statistical dominance, the Sounders are basically competing to top themselves. And this season many believe the 2020 roster will show it’s the best compiled in franchise history.
“Everybody expects Seattle to be the favorites in the Western Conference,” said Matthew Doyle, a senior writer the past decade for MLSsoccer.com. “They have that kind of talent, they have that kind of pedigree. And come this time of year, more often than not, they are the ones who show up and really make you beat them. They don’t gift you anything in the playoffs.”
Seattle (11-5-6), the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, opens this postseason by hosting the seventh-seeded Los Angeles FC (9-8-5) at the newly renamed Lumen Field on Tuesday. ESPN is broadcasting the match, with the kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. PST.
So how does this year’s team compare to the club’s past championship teams?
‘Difficult to establish momentum’
An easy critique of the 2020 postseason is this moment. With the 2016 and 2019 squads, the Sounders were electric entering the postseason.
For the first championship run, a star-studded roster led by Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans and Ozzie Alonzo slogged through a losing first half of the season with Zach Scott and Nelson Valdez playing roles to keep the locker room together.
Lodeiro’s signing in July 2016 was a jolt, as the club only lost once to close the regular season. The Sounders defeated Toronto FC for the title in epic fashion. Defender Roman Torres provided the heroics, scoring the winning penalty kick on a cold December night in Canada.
Last year, a host of Sounders players returned from a September international break to go unbeaten in four of their final five regular-season matches. MLS changed the postseason format to single-elimination, with Seattle needing to finish second in the West in order to secure home-field advantage throughout the conference semifinals.
Torres had the game-winning goal against Minnesota United FC at then-CenturyLink Field, causing the crowd of 47,297 to erupt. The club only lost twice at home during the MLS season.
“We kind of haven’t been able to get into the playoffs with as much momentum as we have in the past,” said Sounders keeper Stefan Frei, who was in goal for the past two titles, and secured the biggest save in team history in the 2016 MLS Cup. “But it’s been difficult to establish momentum this year anyway with the way the schedule has unfolded. Maybe in the playoffs there is some momentum to be found for us. We have a big test in the first game. If we can achieve what we’re going to be setting out to do in that first game, that will give us some confidence to hopefully coax the best out of this squad because it is a really good squad.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, MLS has had three starts to its season. The league shutdown in March to help slow the spread of the virus after its 26 teams played two matches apiece.
It resumed play in July with a tournament in Florida. The Sounders were embarrassingly knocked out by LAFC in the Round of 16, watching from home as Cascadia rival Portland won the championship.
MLS reworked a conclusion to a regular season that started in August, but has canceled or postponed 11 matches. The Sounders had a home match against the Colorado Rapids canceled due to an outbreak among that club. Forward Raul Ruidiaz contracted the virus in October while with his Peru national team and the Sounders recently announced a member of its staff tested positive for COVID-19, but the team has been able to continue training.
“It feels like a long season, like a long year,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said during a recent video conference call. “It feels like we’ve had three preseasons. It feels weird to have the MLS Cup back in December, again. It’s been a weird year and I don’t know if you can quantify it, yet. There’s just too many weird things that have happened and it’s been tough.”
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