Yeah, I know. I'm a real jerk. Things are pretty good right now. Our team is on top of the league by a game , have officially clinched a playoff spot with seven games to go, and just won its fourth US Open Cup trophy. Right now there's probably half a dozen things you'd rather do than subject yourself to memories of last year. And yet, the excitement is different this year. Not lower, but tempered. There's a collective Pavlovian experiment taking effect, and the recent history of this club is the control.
One year ago last weekend, Real Salt Lake came into Seattle with the Supporter's Shield lead on the line. Both teams were missing key components from their starting lineup, including recent acquisition Clint Dempsey (!!!!!) and Eddie Johnson, both who had just come back from National Team duty. Andy Rose took Brad Evans' spot in midfield, and Marc Burch was our starting left midfielder. Stakes were high as the two best teams in the league went head to head.
From minute one, the Sounders controlled the game, and they went back to their homes that night savoring a dominant 2-0 win which put them in first place. Early Obaflips assisted by a resurgent Rose (the deja-vu is too much) was followed up by the local boys going fishing, and the game felt over before halftime. It was a statement win: a way to say "This is our year."
Seven games left, Winners of eight of their last nine. What could go wrong? Well, a lot actually. The Seattle Sounders would not win another game the rest of the season.
It started with their next game, a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy. Then, a 1-1 draw with New York, after a late Tim Cahill equalizer. By this point the Red Bulls had taken the SS lead, but only by one point.
It was only after playing three of the top teams in the league that everything collapsed. Visiting the Colorado Rapids, the Sounders gave up the fastest goal in team history and were blown out before they knew what happened to the tune of a 5-1 scoreline. Days later, They effectively lost the Cascadia Cup when the Vancouver Whitecaps put up four more goals and effectively lost Michael Gspurning his job. Complete freefall. Losses to Portland and Dallas could not be mitigated by a 1-1 draw with LA to close out the season. The team needed eleven points in seven matches to lock up home field throughout the playoffs, but could only muster three.
It was this collapse and the subsequent lack of success in the postseason that led to wholesale changes in the offseason, leaving us with the team we have today. The Sounders ver. 40.9 is five points better than Sounders 39.0 was at the same point, but only two points better than how they finished. Eddie Johnson is gone. Mauro Rosales too. We had just traded Servando Carrasco for Adam Moffat, but he lasted about a month. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni were sent to Chicago.
The team Seattle has now has been more consistent all year long. Gone are the five-week stretches without a win (though the odd blowout persists.) They're scoring more goals than anyone in 2014. They're winning (outright) more than anyone in MLS history. Like last year, the Seattle Sounders have the opportunity to be special. To do so, they'll need to take hold of that Open Cup mentality, and take it one game at a time. One win at a time.
It's worth remembering why it is that expectations are tempered.