Call it a game that tested the Sounders' mettle. Call it ugly. Call it a great win. Yesterday's match at Dallas was possibly all of that, but it was certainly one thing: the kind of win the Sounders must have (and repeat a few more times) for this season to become truly special.
To get there it would seem that there is a clear to-do list for the team right now:1) Beat Columbus next week. This really goes without saying as no one will argue that winning remaining home matches is imperative. However, it is not every week you can beat a 1st place team. The Sounders will not play LAG again this year unless it's in the playoffs. The October mach vs. Philly could well be a shot to knock off an Eastern Conference leader, but, right now, Columbus is tops out east. While there are some who can put together a compelling case for the advantage of a Western Conference team playing through the playoffs via the East, we should not be content for that. We should finish as high as possible, have at least one home playoff game and, generally, act like a top tier team. Beating Dallas and turning around to do the same against Columbus would be acting like a top tier team.
2) Beat Dallas. Again. The Open Cup game against the Galaxy was on the heels of a frustrating July 4 draw that the Sounders should have won (or at least had a lead, but I digress). The thumping of the Galaxy at Starfire certainly didn't derail the SoCal power, but dare I suggest adding Robbie Keane shows that LAG knows it has some stiff competition? Similarly, Dallas is absolutely going to take the Aug. 30 meeting seriously and beating them here does a few things: it shows the Sounders can win another elimination game, it gives the Sounders a winning streak against FCD and it gives FCD more to think about than they may care to for the playoffs.
3) Win the Cascadia Cup on 9/24. Hopefully, the Sounders are flying by this point. With luck they've taken 9 points from the homestand, picked up another CCL win at home and are days away from hosting the US Open Cup Final. With all the "we win trophies" talk we put out, let's win the first trophy of the year. The June meeting featured too much ridiculousness and a Sounders team that was still finding its way with a variety of injuries. Not this time (/knocks wood). There is no reason whatsoever that a confident Sounders team cannot make Vancouver its toy this time. Local bragging rights would be lovely, of course, but winning this would be a fine way to prep for the playoffs and USOC final, mainly, showing that the Sounders have a killer instinct. Win when a trophy is on the line. Similarly...
4) Win the US Open Cup. That would be two trophies in two weeks, per this to-do list.
5) Win the first leg of the Conference Semis. This is assuming the Sounders have secured at least 2nd place in the conference. A road win on the first end of the aggregate would go a long way to the Sounders' first playoff win. Coming home to play the first week of November in front of a raucous crowd with a lead sounds like fun to me, no? And it could "unlock" a whole other list of to-dos.
I don't mean to give short shrift to the CCL here. Momentum will need to be carried into and through those games. The truth is, until we see the result out of Mexico Tuesday night, it's hard to say with certainty what's next. Who knows? An improbable win down there could mean a chance to lock up the group on Sep. 20 at home.
We know where the league and USOC stand, however. And it is a clear list of milestones that can show the world that this Sounders team is having more than a good season. Instead, it is a list that can allow for a team that has done well to date - even with some occasional meanders - to peak at the perfect time and get some hardware to show for it.