It’s got to be the rain? During a long, dreary winter it results in rust that can’t be easily shaken off. That has to explain Seattle’s predisposition for poor starts, right? Because here we are. Again.
For the third successive spring, the Seattle Sounders are stumbling out of the gate. It’s not so much alarming as annoying. To the fans and certainly the players and coaches. There’s an underlying faith that the fortunes will turn, but it’s just so frickin’ frustrating.
One need not be a longtime fan to feel this is déjà vu all over again. Three league matches, three defeats. All this after starting 1-1-3 last year and 1-3-1 in 2016. Compounding matters is the 270 scoreless MLS minutes. You have to go back 41 years to find a longer goal drought to open a league season.
Since the beaches haven’t yet opened there is ample time to warm-up the wayback machine and check-out some of the more yawn-inducing starts in local history, then scratch around for some telling stats and comments.
The club that scraped the fewest points from their first games is the 2013 Reign. It’s also known as their inaugural season. Four of those results were on the road, but really it was a side lacking chemistry, not to mention its three national team allocations: Hope Solo (injured), Amy Rodriguez (expecting child) and Megan Rapinoe (still playing in Lyon).
Laura Harvey, who would trade away half the squad the following offseason, was brutally honest after a fourth straight defeat (0-4-1): “We didn’t deserve anything out of the game tonight,” she said. “We got exactly what we deserved, which was a defeat.”
When the Sounders went 1-4 out of the gate in 1979, it was always something. First, they failed to manage a lead after scoring three goals in their (home) opener. A player strike contributed to the next two defeats. Later, they scored off the opening kickoff at Minnesota before succumbing late. That team never did find its way, becoming the first to finish under .500.
Beaten by a Linesman
Wonder how Brian Schmetzer recalls 1983, his first year as a Sounders regular. The entire organization was in upheaval, and fans were staying away in droves. They were not missing anything.
The first three home games were all shutout losses. The fourth try in the Kingdome might have been the worst. Despite scoring (on a penalty, no less), Seattle was beaten into submission by a linesman with a rubber arm. The offside flag was raised 21 (TWENTY-ONE!) times — which has got to be some kind of record — and the Sounders fell again.
Said coach Laurie Calloway: “Every week somebody is going to play poorly. When you get five or six playing poorly it becomes very difficult to win a game.” That team ended the NASL era with a whimper.
Sigi Not Being Sigi
Sigi Schmid stopped just short of naming names early in 2016. A 3-1 loss at Colorado and 2-4-1 mark prompted Schmid to call into question his veteran leaders, who took exception. In 2013, with the Sounders’ spring stupor translating to a single point from four games, Schmid was very un-Sigi-like, openly guaranteeing a win in the fifth match, at home against New England. They were forced to settle for a draw, sinking to 0-3-2.
Yet a week later, the pieces started falling into place. Eddie Johnson was out injured, but Obafemi Martins, despite a tender knee, stepped up and scored the winner. Heavily bearded Brad Evans finally got to shave, and the Sounders reeled off six wins in their next eight.
Spirit of ‘77?
Without Clint Dempsey and playing on the road, Schmetzer will not be making any brash predictions of victory in Kansas City. But when the chips are down and players believe they’ve let down their coach, there are historic instances of them collectively rising to the occasion.
In 1977, the Sounders were winless and scoreless after three games and what would eventually be 365 minutes. It was Jimmy Gabriel’s first season as head coach, and he was taking it hard. Said center back David Gillett: “We all feel pretty bad about letting Jimmy Gabriel down. We’ve always had teams with character in Seattle…Obviously we need a few players. But things will turn for us.”
Enter Mr. Sounder
The next game was at home versus Portland. The Timbers took a 2-nil lead. Frustrated, Gabriel peeled off his sweats and inserted himself into the fray.
Gabriel, the original Mr. Sounder, wore number 6 and anchored defensive midfield. He came on, made a couple key tackles. The rest is history. Suffice to say, the goals came in bunches, and the losing streak was over.
Our modern day Mr. Sounder, Ozzie Alonso, appears to be available for the first time this weekend. His return from extended injury absences in 2010 and ’15 coincided with an immediate return to winning ways (incidentally, Seattle averages 1.7 points when Ozzie plays, 1.1 in MLS games he doesn’t). The question is whether Alonso can be just as impactful at the age of 32.
On Sunday in Kansas City, the Sounders ‘6’ shirt will be ready to wear. And and if it’s pulled on and put into action, maybe, just maybe, history can repeat itself. After all, this rain can’t last forever.
Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.