For those who still had remnants of the bitter taste left in our mouths from last year’s end-of-season collapse — punctuated, no less, by a two-leg playoff defeat to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named further south — consecutive blowout losses at the hands of men from New York and Dallas in mid-September conjured up an eerily familiar tale. Were we in for yet another late-season disappointment?
With our sizable lead in the race to the Supporters’ Shield diminishing and the Galaxy yet again displaying their champion-caliber form (who for all intents and purposes are our biggest ‘rival’ when it comes to those who pose the greatest threat), there was reason to believe the Sounders were once again teasing us in with their alluring play only to turn out to be playing games with our heads the whole time.
Since that time, however, the Sounders have proven they are not a 40-year-old man posing online as a seductive blonde hoping to eek out yet another round of financial information from us. The Vancouver anomaly aside, we are once again back in the driver’s seat for our first piece of MLS hardware thanks to arguably the greatest draw in Sounders history.
There was never any reason to doubt the front office wasn't taking it seriously. I am no psychologist, but the weary red lines underneath Sigi Schmid’s eyes visible in interviews following last season’s collapse showed a man who had poured his heart and soul into a team, only to be rewarded with a combination of inopportune injuries and contentious behavior in the locker room that deprived the team of postseason triumph.
Adrian Hanauer would have likely displayed similar battle scars had he not been born with the most calm, pragmatic, and poker-driven approach to interviews and, seemingly, life in general. If evidence ever surfaced that Lady Gaga failed to consult with Hanauer before inking her hit single, fans would be apt to demand their money back.
This season, like any season in a parity-driven league, has yielded its share of ups and downs. A relatively pedestrian 2-2-1 (W-L-T) start to the season was erased by a five-match win streak. Wins against strong squads in D.C. United and Real Salt Lake were sandwiched between blowout losses to New England and the Galaxy. The festivities following our fourth U.S. Open Cup title were quickly nullified by the two horrific displays noted earlier and fears that history would rear its ugly head and repeat itself yet again.
Despite these emotional swings, one thing has not wavered: Seattle’s ability to fight for each other and battle back even in the most unlikely of circumstances. The 4-4 slugfest in Portland and recent 2-2 heavyweight bout against Los Angeles are comebacks for the ages. Portland invented drawing at home; Seattle invented coming back to draw from within the enemy’s cave in style.
Regardless of what happens on Saturday — luck is a factor in every sport on Earth, after all — there are four key questions that have been asked about Sigi Schmid in the past that we can cathartically put to rest:
- Can Sigi adequately prepare and manage top-tier talent?
- Can Sigi (and Hanauer, for that matter) recognize the importance of locker room chemistry in the modern era of professional sports?
- Can Sigi adjust mid-game tactics through halftime talks and substitutions to best adapt to what is happening on the field?
- Can Sigi overhaul his tactics and style to thrive within the modern day iteration of MLS?
In all four cases, this season has proved that we can respond with a resounding "Yes!"
Coming back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a well-deserved draw in Los Angeles may have required extra tape sessions and tactical preparation for a regular season match, but that’s exactly what good coaches do: adjust to the circumstances of the upcoming match.
We needn't pick at the crusty scab that is Seattle’s record in the playoffs and the debate over whether or not this team can win ‘big games’ in MLS — that dead horse has been beaten enough times to shatter even the finest of batons, not to mention that last Sunday did much to alleviate the latter. There is a much more important match that stands in between us and the playoffs, and that match is this Saturday.
Should Seattle go on to earn its first major trophy in MLS, it cannot be chalked up to being a fluke. Balanced schedule or not, the Supporters’ Shield is awarded to the best team over the course of the season, period. The Sounders now have a chance to tear down any pre-existing narratives and reframe history for their own.
As Brad Evans correctly noted, this is the biggest match in Sounders FC history. So let’s have at ‘em boys, and let us supporters make damned sure to give them the utmost of our support.