There's been a lot of talk on the Seattle Sounders about how different this year's team is from last year. Most of that talk, admittedly, was toward the beginning of the season when the Sounders were reeling off wins and scoring come-from-behind victories. But that hasn't stopped fans, especially, from finding similarities, at least in the way the current team is struggling.
No, four losses in six games is not remotely the same thing as a five-game losing streak, going winless in eight straight or even winning just one of their final 11, but the wounds from last season run deep. Well, at least among the fans.
"It's such a different team," Sounders midfielder Andy Rose said earlier this week. "If it's the same group of guys, maybe it's something that creeps into guys' minds. As a guy who's been here a couple years, it feels like such a different team from last year, it really hasn't been brought up at all. There are so many new faces, such a different attitude in the locker room, big personalities have come and gone."
Fill in the names of those "big personalities" however you see fit, but it should be said that the tension that seemed to fill the Sounders' locker room and training fields has been noticeably absent this season. If you choose to look for such signs, you can also see the way that players celebrate goals, almost universally as a group this year when last year's were often solo affairs.
While that may make for a better work environment, the only thing that really matters are the results on the field. Rose, at least, remains bullish on what the Sounders can still accomplish.
"I've said it before, but I really believe we have something special," he said. "The camaraderie of the group, how together we are, how excited everyone gets for one another. Just the way everyone was excited for me the other night [when he scored two goals in the Open Cup], guys I'm competing with for spots were just so happy for me and I'm the same way with them. When you have a group like that, you can come back from anything and we'll look to bounce back from this."
A win tonight against the San Jose Earthquakes won't magically erase the league struggles that date back about six weeks. But it would put the Sounders back atop the Supporters' Shield and Western Conference standings, back on pace for a near-record points total and potentially get the season headed back in a positive direction. The next three matches after that are all against out-of-playoff-position opponents. One way or another, we'll have a very good idea of just how much this team has really changed.