Over the course of the next 23 days, the Seattle Sounders will play six league matches. It’s a heavy load — in fact they’ve never played so many league games in so few days before — but one they know could end up defining their season.
"We have to gather points," Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said on Thursday before the team left for Chicago. "You can get into a rhythm with these types of games. It’s jut a matter of winning games, getting points. For me it’s a positive. Everyone wants to play, not practice; games are fun. Everyone is just looking forward to this stretch."
Historically, the Sounders have responded well in situations like this. Although they’ve never played quite so many league games in quite so short of a time before, they do have plenty of experience with fixture congestion — it’s just usually caused by U.S. Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League.
In combing through their previous eight MLS campaigns, I discovered at least eight instances where they played six games or more in less than a month. Combined, they averaged nearly two points per match in those games.
In fact, in their first six instances between 2009-2014, they were averaging 2.24 points per game. In most of those seasons, the congestion actually served to kickstart their season.
Perhaps the best example of how these games could turn around a season came in 2010. The Sounders started off the year going 4-7-3 and looked to be scuffling. The change started on June 30 when the Sounders beat the Portland Timbers in a penalty shootout of the U.S. Open Cup. By the time they finished playing their sixth game in 26 days on July 25, they were 7-8-4 and back in the playoff hunt.
Easily their most impressive run of success on short rest came in a pair of clumped together runs in 2011. First there were six games in 25 days in which the Sounders went 4-0-2 from June 4-28. Even more impressive, though, was an eight-game stretch from Aug. 3-30 in which the Sounders went 7-0-1 across three tournaments and featured a win on the road against Mexican power Monterrey.
The only time they played as many league games in a comparably short period was from May 2-26, 2012. In those games, they went 3-2-1. Chances are the Sounders would likely consider a similar record on the low end of acceptable during this stretch.
Of course, their most recent experience with this kind of fixture congestion was a reminder how things can snowball in a bad way and included the run of games that ultimately cost Sigi Schmid his job. From July 9-31, the Sounders played five league matches and one U.S. Open match. The Sounders went 1-4-1 in those games, with the tie actually coming in Brian Schmetzer’s first game as Sounders head coach.
It should also be said that although it wasn’t quite this level of congestion — and I didn’t include it the statistics I ran above — the Sounders did play six games from Oct. 2-30, 2016. They went 4-1-1 in those games, including a pair of playoff victories.
Schmetzer, understandably, thinks his team will likely draw more from those games than the earlier struggles.
"We’re a little light in the roster through some injuries," he said. "We’re starting to get some guys back. The physical health is going to be one component and the other part is just mental. We have to figure out ways to win. That’s what we did last year and I think they have it within them as well."