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Lessons from long unbeaten streaks of the past

What, if anything, has this 13-match unbeaten run told us about 2017 Sounders.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Midway through Bull Durham, pitching protégé Nuke LaLoosh scrambles up the bus aisle, bellowing his newfound appreciation for learning. He’s in the midst of a winning streak and finds it addictive.

“I love winning,” he exclaims in the ear of mentor Crash Davis. “You know what I’m saying? It’s like better than losing.”

Moments later Crash begins a crash course lesson on baseball clichés, among them, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes it rains.”

If ever they flip the premise to futbol (the reverse of Jimmy Fallon's Fever Pitch), that particular cliché will require reworking. When it comes to the Simplest Game it’s a little more complicated. More like: “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes you draw.”

The latter fact is all too topical at the moment in Sounderland. By match day in Utah versus RSL it will have been more about three months since the Sounders lost. And over a month since they won.

Fit to be Tied

Four consecutive draws are Seattle’s most since that fit-to-be-tied May of 2009, when five straight games finished level. Back then Sigi Schmid, wearing his Crash Davis cap, would simply state the obvious: Sometimes you’re the inchworm.

From a historical perspective, no Seattle soccer side has ever gone an entire calendar season (in this case summer) without a loss. Furthermore, only one team, the 1980 NASL Sounders, has ever put together a comparable league run.

Those Sounders of Alan Hinton (and featuring a 17-year-old Brian Schmetzer) won 13 of their first 14 matches. The sole exception was a shootout “loss” after a nil-nil draw in Vancouver.

While being unbeatable for 13 league games is indeed a modern club record, lately it’s elicited more of a ‘meh’ than hearty applause from the hometown fans. That’s because seven of those results have been draws; two of them scoreless and four others ending 1-1. The only draw that truly got one’s Rave Green blood pumping was the 10-man, added time comeback in Portland.

Wins Gain Ground

When this unbeaten run began back on June 21 (with a draw, no less), the Sounders stood eighth in the West and 16th in the overall table. They were two games under .500 and thin on depth; Kelvin Leerdam and Victor Rodrigeuz had yet to arrive.

Schmetzer’s personnel options would dwindle further before the transfer window opened. After the Portland game came call-ins for the Gold Cup. Jordan Morris missed four fixtures, Clint Dempsey and Cristian Roldan two each. Oddly enough, that coincided with the stretch in which Seattle won six of seven, vaulting from sixth to first in the division and up to fourth in the Supporters’ Shield standings.

Regardless of who's available, it’s plain to see that when the Sounders are finishing chances they’re taking three points. When scoring two or more goals during this run they are 5-0-1.

It's now plain to see Seattle is united. The rallies versus Portland and D.C. United have galvanized this gang; they are firmly a collective working as one. And perhaps that explains this most recent stretch of not particularly playing well yet grinding out a point at a time.

Is Less Sexy Better?

Historically here in Seattle, teams that have struggled yet resolved to keep accumulating points have fared better in the postseason cup run. That 1980 team, which also had another eight-game unbeaten run, exited in the second round of the playoffs. Schmetzer’s first season in the A-League, 2002, featured win strings of 12 and 8. But the Sounders were eliminated in the first round.

The less sexy unbeaten runs of 1995 (4-0-6) and 2005 (6-0-4) turned out to be championship years.

So, is this inchworm of 2017 indicative of better things to come? Rather than lament the lack of goals and W’s should we see draws as points snatched from defeats? Is this summer-long unbeaten run the stuff of great things to come? Does winning another MLS Cup begin with a refusal to lose?

Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.

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