TUKWILA, Wash. — About a third of the Seattle Sounders team that made it to MLS Cup 2017 are not repeating their visit; this is their first time making MLS Cup in rave green. Of the group of new players, only Will Bruin has made MLS Cup before. These first timers have different motivations than those who earned their rings on December 10, 2016. There are new players developed by the team, signed from outside of the US system, and MLS talent brought in to replace the lost talent during the offseason rebuild.
“When I saw this ring at the beginning of the year,” Jordy Delem told Sounder at Heart on Sunday, “I told myself we have to do it again this year and now we are one more step to do it and I will be very happy.”
Delem is part of a group of players who were in the organization last year, but not on the First Team. Nouhou is now a frequent starter, Delem is often in the 18, and Zach Mathers provides depth in training.
In 2016 they played in front of 1,200 or so dedicated fans. In 2017 Nouhou and Delem played in front of the largest playoff crowd in Seattle Sounders history.
“You know the fans are crazy,” Delem said. “Last year was a transition year between S2 and the first team. We had to transition, to play in front of so many people is very amazing, but we have to control ourselves about the pressure and try to do our best. We know if we do our best the fans will be happy.”
Players like Victor Rodriguez, Kelvin Leerdam and Gustav Svensson have different histories. They’ve played for large clubs, for national teams. Svensson just helped big underdog Sweden beat Italy. He knows the pressure of a nation, but that may be the only similarity between MLS Cup and that World Cup Qualifier, because Gustav doesn’t believe the betting odds.
“I wouldn't say that we are underdogs now. I would say that it's pretty even. They have good qualities but we have good qualities as well. I wouldn't say it's the same because Italy is a much better team than we are. We had to perform at our very top to beat them and we did. So then we just try to play on their weaknesses,” Svensson explained to Sounder at Heart, “and now it's for us to try to play on our strengths, to make sure we have possession on the ball, that we get the ball in the right and the spaces and the right players. It's going to be more about us.”
They’ve seen the rings. They’ve heard the stories about the stunning run of 2016, the no shots on goal, the Save and the penalty shootout.
“Last year is last year. There was a lot of celebrating for last year and we've been talking about last year a lot during the season as well. For me it's just about this season. Everyone who came here who didn't play here last year had great years as well,” Svensson said. “Of course you want to win again for the team, for the fans. For those of us who just joined the team this year is just about this season and about winning this year.”
Harry Shipp, Will Bruin, Lamar Neagle and Calum Mallace joined Seattle from within MLS. Harry fell just short of MLS Cup last year when Montreal Impact lost a goal fest to TFC. Will Bruin has two MLS Cup appearances, both losses. Neagle, like any Sounder not part of ‘16, was part of good-to-great regular season. They all have the chance to reach that summit now.
Shipp watched Seattle win with no idea that he would be with the Sounders in 2017. He didn’t think much about the quality of the game as a neutral, but rooted against Toronto.
“It’s crazy now, coming full circle and getting a chance to do that [win MLS Cup]. I feel like the game might not have been the prettiest last year, just watching it,” Shipp said after practice this week, “but I think now we’re playing well and have a chance to control tempo and hopefully dictate the game.”
There’s a certain hunger among these additions from within MLS. It is similar to the hunger that so many Sounders had in 2016. It is part of the reason why coach Schmetzer isn’t worried about motivation. The new blood is full of motivations that differ from those with their first ring.
“It’s the reason you play. I’m not a individual stats guy; I’m not someone that cares about accolades,” Shipp said. “For me, I play to win championships. I did it in college and I’m looking to get my first MLS Cup.”
And for all of these additions, with desire burning in their soul, there is one other. He’s been on the field twice during MLS Cup failure. He watched once while his team won and his own future was at stake.
Clint Dempsey may not qualify for the strictest definition of a new addition, but there is no doubt about his satisfaction. This year’s journey is new. The potential for Clint to do something he has yet to do stands in front of him, and like Delem, Svensson, and Shipp, the 2017 journey has little to do with last year.
Quote transcription provided by Andrew Beck.