Our USOC and Champions League lineup? (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Given the sorry state of play currently from the Sounders, and the quite likely scenario that we won't make the playoffs this year, I'd like to propose that we adopt a different approach to the season than is the standard MLS template.
Normally, highest priority is given to MLS matches, while other competitions, even the Champions League, are the province of second stringers and youth players. Because this season has been so screwy already, I say the Sounders should embrace the wacky and flip the script 180 degrees.
As of the moment, the Sounders are second-to-last in the Western conference, and 11th overall. As Dave noted, even a huge improvement to a 50 percent win rate might not be enough to boost us into the playoffs. In these circumstances, MLS teams would continue to try to grind out results, and hope that several teams above them slip up enough for them to climb the ladder into that final playoff spot. Sometimes it works out and once you're in that crapshoot, anything can and has happened.
Every year, though, teams work and work to move up and succeed only in grabbing ninth or 10th. And there's no worse finishing position in MLS than ninth. Not only have you missed the playoffs, you've also probably missed out on the difference makers in next year's draft. It's especially bad this year because ninth lands you in the 10th draft spot instead of the eighth you would have gotten without expansion.
So I say forget trying to climb the MLS ladder. Let the kids run around in MLS, with just enough veteran rotation to keep them match fit, and put out all the big guns out there for the USOC and the Champions League. If the kids get wiped out in league play, all the better, because that means the Sounders will rise in next year's draft. Plus, all the extra minutes would serve to sharpen and develop their skills, which would be an investment for future seasons.
Meanwhile, our best players can come out and try to get us some silverware. This would probably be especially effective in the USOC, because the MLS teams that we would be facing later on would be following the normal script and prioritizing league play, and therefore putting their second teams out there. The Champions League would still be a hard slog, but we'd be giving ourselves our best chance.
Clearly, this would an extremely controversial decision. Loyal season-ticket holders would be seeing a lot of the second stringers and maybe a lot of losing. At the same time, a couple of unlucky bounces and we could end up crashing out early in the Cups, and have absolutely nothing to show for this season. Obviously, this would also be unthinkable in most leagues, because relegation is awaiting the bottom teams, not high draft picks. MLS is emphatically not one of those leagues though, and I think it's time for some out of the box thinking. It's a risky move, but nothing worthwhile is accomplished without risk.