Who’s the hottest team in Major League Soccer? Judging by wins and losses alone, there’s no doubt. It’s the Seattle Sounders.
Twelve points in their last four games is an unmatched haul. Expand the scope to a team’s last five, six games (when Clint Dempsey joined the team), and Sigi Schmid’s team is still the league’s form side. Since July 29, the Sounders have won seven of eight, climbing from near the bottom of the West and into second place.
So why isn’t there more buzz about the Sounders? Big analysis pieces about their rise? Videos comparing them to Real Salt Lake, asking whether the West’s leaders should be scared? Why aren’t we asking whether this is the year Seattle will break through?
People who’ve watched the games know, and if you look beyond mere wins and losses, it’s easy to spot. Seattle’s last five victories have all by one goal, hinting at a fragility that belies their rise.
Portland’s injury issues. Columbus’s inability to capitalize 11-on-10. Game-winning own goals from Doniel Henry and Gonzalo Segares. The mere quality of Chivas USA. These aren’t circumstances that wow, particularly with RSL scoring 11 goals in their last three games.
But for Seattle, it’s all part of a process – a process that makes the current hot streak a welcome bonus. Clint Dempsey is neither in full shape nor fully familiar with his new teammates. Along with Eddie Johnson, he’s been away from the team on international duty. Obafemi Martins has been hurt. Now Brad Evans has gone down. Seattle hasn’t even been able to discern who their best XI is, let alone give them time to gel.
And that was supposed to be the goal all along. When Seattle acquired Dempsey, they were outside the playoff picture, though with a glut of games in hand, they always looked good bets to finish in the top five, provided their improved on the field.
That was the only mission. Start playing better, and making the playoffs will take care of itself. And rather than worry about tracking down RSL or finishing at a certain level in the standings, the real value for a team hungry to claim an MLS Cup would be playing the best soccer possible come the postseason. If near-term results had to be sacrificed for long-term form, so be it, even if short-term results where still important.
That’s leads to a scary thought, in light of Seattle’s impressive run: What happens when Schmid’s attack really begins to click? Since Dempsey arrived, they’ve failed to score more than one goal in a match without the help of an opponent’s own goal (averaging exactly one conventional goal per 90 minutes). Certainly that attack will improve, if from increased familiarity alone. Yet while they’re still finding their stride, they’ve gone 5-1-0.
The other factor in this run: Seattle’s only faced one playoff-sitting team since Dempsey arrived. That was a depleted Portland, at home – a game in which Portland were the better side over the first 45 minutes. Starting with Friday’s match against RSL, all that changes. Six of Seattle’s final eight games will be against playoff-sitting teams, including two games against the defending champion Galaxy.
So yeah, there are reasons why we’re not talking about Seattle, yet, but that’s likely to change. They’ve ridden a string of close results against relatively easy competition to second in the West, but as their attack improves, they’ll start to transcend those performances. Against a tougher schedule, that may not lead to improved results, but we should get a better idea as to whether Seattle’s worth title-contender buzz.
A couple of big wins over RSL or LA, and those “is this the year” pieces will come.