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Postgame Pontifications: Confidence continues to carry Sounders

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There is something unquantifiable about what has the Sounders on this historic winning streak.

SEATTLE — There is still a lot of winning left to do if the Seattle Sounders are to truly salvage this season, but after eight straight wins — and an international break — now seems like a good time to survey what has already been accomplished.

By now, you know the Sounders set the post-shootout-era record for most consecutive wins in a single season. That era, by the way, is in its 19th season. This is not some statistical fluke born of small samples.

It can certainly be argued the Sounders have not been particularly spectacular during much of this streak — as Bobby Warshaw is fond of reminding us — but they are undeniably playing with the kind of confidence that can make up for other failings.

Look no further than how this game went. Sporting KC absolutely blitzed the Sounders in the opening minutes, pressing high and immediately forcing turnovers. Through one lens, you could talk yourself into believing that their 2nd minute goal was a bit of bad luck. Brad Smith’s attempted clearance hit Gerso Fernandes and popped up perfectly to Diego Rubio, who struck it clean first time and easily beat Stefan Frei. It was the second fastest goal the the Sounders had ever allowed at home.

“That wasn’t unlucky,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said, rejecting the easy narrative. “We weren’t ready for what they brought.

“Those first two minutes, they put us under pressure. That’s all on me. That’s all on me. I need to make sure that the team [is] ready for a playoff-type game. We, the coaching staff, talked about it. That’s on us. And it won’t happen again.”

Under different circumstances, you could easily see the Sounders — or any team — feeling sorry for themselves and maybe even buckling. Instead, the Sounders gathered themselves almost immediately and were back on even terms just 10 minutes later.

Sporting KC had a couple decent chances to retake the lead before halftime — most notably Ike Opara’s marauding chance — but the Sounders turned the tables to start the second half. By the 56th minute, the Sounders had a two-goal lead and never really looked to be in any sort of real danger.

Don’t write off those two second-half goals, either. The own-goal was a product of a devastating Nicolas Lodeiro pass that put the KC defense on their heels. Same with the penalty, with Lodeiro’s passing opening it up again.

There’s a degree of good luck involved, of course, but the Sounders are making teams react and playing with tons of confidence. Good things happen when you do that.

Another historic run?

I’m not sure how much stock I put in the playoff percentages SportsClubStats.com generates on MLS teams. It seems like they fluctuate a bit more than they should and it’s not remotely unheard of for a good or bad month to have a sizable impact on their projections. But even if you don’t entirely trust SportsClubStats, FiveThirtyEight.com has the Sounders’ chances bottoming out at 16 percent and now up to 91.

That said, the Sounders look like they might pull off another historic turnaround. After their win over Sporting KC, their playoff percentages are over 91 percent. That’s basically a 90-percent turnaround from when they bottomed out after the 3-2 loss to the Portland Timbers a couple months ago. Yes, 90 percent.

When the Sounders’ made what was considered a historic turnaround in 2016 to make the playoffs, SportsClubStats never pegged their playoff chances below 4.48 percent. The Sounders were also never more than 10 points out of the playoff hunt that year and didn’t get into playoff position until the end of September.

The Sounders were 11 points out after that loss to the Timbers, and yet they’ve now spent two straight weeks above the playoff line — more than a month ahead of where they were in 2016.

That red card

I’ve watched the replay of Chad Marshall’s red card from at least five different angles. I know Geoff Baker talked to the referee crew, who even went so far as to show him the angle they felt was definitive, and he seemed to think it was more conclusive than what was shown on the broadcast. I’m still very skeptical.

First off, I just don’t know how many more angles of that play can exist. The broadcast seemed to have shown every important one, and even if there’s another out there, I can’t imagine it’s anymore convincing. And, yes, I’ve seen the still frames that make it look as if Marshall is putting a straight leg into Johnny Russell’s shin. It’s a very deceiving image, as it completely ignores the full-speed video that shows Marshall barely grazing Russell.

More relevantly, I just don’t see how that’s a red card. Was there a foul? Maybe, but it seems like just about every former player is in agreement that it’s at least in dispute and none of them seem to think it’s a red.

What’s equally frustrating about it is that the whole stoppage around the decision took six minutes. It was two minutes before Baldomero Toledo was even asked to look at the replay and it was another two minutes before he got around to showing Marshall the card, after first bizarrely signaling for the free kick. If it takes that long to come to a decision, there’s nothing “clear and obvious” about the call.

I think VAR is a very promising technology, and if used properly it’s a no-brainer improvement. It just kills me how poorly it’s often used. This is one of those cases.

Y’all wild

The sendoff the Sounders gave Clint Dempsey was about as well done as it could have been. Brining Dempsey onto his field with his whole family was perfectly fitting, and the tribute video was impressive in its breadth of talent. It’s well worth watching in its entirety if you haven’t yet seen it.

As expected as it was, I still found it notable that Dempsey didn’t say a single word on the microphone or even in some sort of pre-recorded message. I’m not sure what was more odd, though — that he didn’t speak, or that him not speaking was entirely predictable?

For better or worse, Dempsey never seemed to enjoy the public part of his job. He would do press when it was essentially required, and he was professional about it for the most part, but he never seemed to enjoy the back-and-forth.

By all accounts, though, he was great when mingling with fans on more of an intimate basis. There are countless examples of him interacting with young fans after matches, and he’d often give his jersey to them rather than swap with opposing players (something I don’t remember him ever doing in MLS). Most famously, he met with a cancer-stricken fan during those months of inactivity following the diagnosis of his irregular heartbeat.

I suspect some intrepid reporter will eventually get Dempsey to dish for some post-career retrospective. But I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question that we’ve heard the last from Dempsey and this will be the last public image we have of him. Dempsey seems to value his privacy over just about everything else and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to learn he’s moved back to North Carolina (where his wife is from and where he apparently maintains a residence) in an attempt to just live a normal life. In a way, that would only make him more legendary.

The game in one gif

Give Sporting KC credit, they came out strong in the first half and were the better team from the run of play. Who knows how this game turns out if Opara is able to convert this chance, but it also serves as a glorious reminder that Frei is having an amazing season.

Quote of the Day

“Look, you make your own luck as well. Yes, we were a bit unlucky during the beginning of the year. I’m not going to deny that. But I do think in the overall, full season it does even out. When you put pressure on opponents, good things happen.” — Brian Schmetzer on the role of luck during this run

One stat to tell the tale

1.70 — The Sounders’ last four wins have come against teams with a cumulative points per game of 1.70, with all four in playoff position when the games occurred. Without adjusting for home-and-away splits, that’s the toughest four-game stretch the Sounders have faced or will face this year and they went 4-0-0 with a +9 goal differential. Stretching it all the way back to the first win of their eight-game streak, the average opposition PPG was 1.52 and seven of those teams were ahead of the Sounders when they played. Just one of the Sounders’ eight remaining games is against a team currently in playoff position, and none of the teams they face has a better record.