It's a cliche to write "championships aren't won in March, but they can be lost then." Bad writing tool, aside, there is some truth to this. Last year's Galaxy is, of course, an exception and, to some extent, slow starts by the Sounders in years that have included US Open Cups and playoff berths are good illustrations that say panic is not on order.
I do think think anyone who is simply saying, at this point, that the team just needs to time to gel is missing some obvious flaws in our side's approach, though. And if not addressed soon, they could spell trouble.
This team differs from some of the other slump situations. Last year's Galaxy, for starters, was coming off winning the MLS Cup. Our Sounders side is coming off a year of oh-so-close. The disappointment in Torreon. The US Open Cup loss. The Galaxy series in the playoffs. (Seriously, tell me you're not still shaking your head at what could have been hosting the MLS Cup final in Seattle...). Bottom line, we not only have a lot of personnel changes on the field, but expectations moving into the season were, perhaps, higher than ever. The players know this. Is it affecting performance? I cannot begin to try to say, though the postgame quotes from Sandy, UT seem to imply the players know more is expected.
This team is also in a slump different from the 9-game winless streak last year. After all, that team started 7-1-1. It knew it could win. Between injuries and teams having plenty of tape on us in mideseason, that slump was more about a team making adjustments and finding ways to dictate play the way it had at the start of the year.
This year's team, plainly, is not dictating play.
Through six games across all competitions, the Sounders have scored five times. Sure, many shots have come close. But we can count on those most every game. That the Sounders are barely giving up more than a goal per game is lovely, but if someone had said they would not keep a clean sheet in any of their first six games, you'd have gladly made a wager against that, right? We have an attack problem.
At the top of the season, we likely all figured the Sounders would be scoring plenty and yielding very little. If you're not adjusting your expectations at this point, you should. It's clear that April is going to be a month of struggle... hopefully one where we struggle to find our feet and win those games, rather than one that simply compounds everyone's frustrations.
So how do we struggle to get wins... and then thrive through the rest of the season? And how do we fans not wind ourselves up too much as the team does so?
On the fans' side, we need to stop looking at the standings now. Let's just get it out there: we are 11 points off the conference-leading pace of Dallas (with only one game in hand at this point). If you want to see Seattle near the top of the standings, assuming reasonable consistency from the rest of the field, you're going to be waiting a while. If there is a lesson from the 2012 Galaxy, it's that the table just isn't relevant at this point. Taking points in matches is.
As for the team, I think a few things are on order:
1) Learn to cope with a press. I am tired of seeing our team pressed off the ball or, at least, into breaking attacking momentum and forcing bad passes. Period. This has been a problem for a while and, sure, I realize it's tough to beat a press. But until we show quick feet or passing to beat a press, teams are going to keep doing it to us. This is going to take speed. Zak has been the best, to my eyes, of putting the ball at his feet and running through a press. Folks have pointed out he is ending up double-teamed and out of options. Players helping the rush can alleviate this and that has absolutely been missing. At least a few times each game, I see Zak make a long run... and no other green shirts are around in the final third. But I digress... point is, our players have never coped well with a press. I'm tired of seeing the ball held up at midfield while players get on their horses behind the play. We need to be able to run or quickly pass.
2) Consider a formation change. Shalrie Joseph getting healthy may be the key to this, but the 4-4-2 doesn't seem to be working anymore. Not sure if this makes sense, but we almost bog ourselves down in midfield. I like the idea of some kind of 4-3-3 or even a 4-2-1-3. I could see a Zak-Oba-EJ front line, Evans teeing them up, with either Shalrie or Yedlin pinching up. At the least, that sort of formation would force the team to move the ball quickly upfield. Martinez can fit in there in Zak's spot or even in the Evans spot. Adjustments could be made game-to-game or within a game to add more speed or slow things down. You'll note I'm not talking about Rosales a lot here. I love the guy and I completely understand the importance of his locker room presence. What don't understand is why he suddenly seems less able to create momentum and chances. In fact, I feel what I see him doing most is hitting the ground. Mauro needs to help drive the attack or we need to evaluate his role on the team.
3) Let EJ be EJ. We've scored five goals and two are his. He has had many of our best chances, as well. I understand frustration if it seems like he is "giving up" on a play. I'm not in that camp. The man is paid to score goals and, frankly, he's not being put in a lot of positions to do so. You'd be frustrated, too. The guy wants to score goals. He wants to win. He knows he's now paired with someone that, if the team is executing, should be able to help him score more often. Sigi can handle his personality. If that means tossing EJ on the bench for some reason, he'll do it. I'm not concerned EJ is about to be the locker room cancer. This is a contract year for him, no?
4) Learn to love the low cross. The team needs to accept that, in a crowded box, we're not winning the aerial battles. We're just not. When it's EJ and a marker, sure. I like those chances. But our corner kick performance and our open play crosses are mostly DOA if they're high. Low crosses are no guarantee of success, but they present more opportunity for mayhem in the box. Bad clearances, odd bounces, all of that... instead of a header up and away from danger. Luck is something you can create, right? Low crosses might be the ticket to creating some luck.
I don't actually think, pitiful as the defense was at times last night, that the defense needs much help other than the attack scoring goals. If we were sitting 3-0-1 having won a bunch of games 2-1, we'd be sitting here going "geez, just think when the attack gets going... at least the defense is solid." The back line has absolutely made mistakes, but they can all be fixed. Gspurning is a beast. If we find a way to score twice each game, we'll see results. Heck, if we scored twice each game so far, we WOULD be 3-0-1. That's all those four items are about up there. How do we find a way to score twice every 90 mins? Right now, it seems like doing so is a struggle. Let's hope they fight through... and win.