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Pain teaches you joy

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How the Sounders turned early season loss into a game plan to beat LAFC

MLS: MLS Cup Conference Finals-Seattle Sounders FC at Los Angeles FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re like me, you’ve had an extra pep in your step the last 48 or so hours. Everything is incredible. The Sounders trounced The Greatest Team In MLS History™ a few nights ago and then Toronto FC did the equally impossible by beating The Greatest Expansion Team In MLS History™ 24 hours later. We’re hosting an MLS Cup in just over a week. Has that sunk in for you yet? It’s the first thought I have every morning and the last thing that crosses my mind before I fall asleep every night. In this moment, everything is incredible.

Not to be a the one that opens old wounds or anything, but remember April 21? In that moment, everything was not incredible. Quite the opposite, actually. After having their best start in franchise history, the Sounders rolled into Banc of California Stadium only to get absolutely demolished by LAFC. What was billed as the first clash between possibly the two best teams in the league was nothing but a one-way beat down. The Sounders may have been the third best team on a field that only had two teams that day. That game knocked the Sounders off their axis, and they wobbled at times throughout the season, but like an experienced boxer getting punched in the mouth in an early round, they were able to regain their composure and punch back at LAFC in the Western Conference Final.

As I wrote back in April, just about everything went wrong in that game. Funnily enough, the reason things went so poorly in that game is because the Sounders played scared. Some pundits said that was the only way that the Sounders could beat LAFC in the playoffs. They played like a team that’s not bothered by hype and newness. They played like a team of champions and warriors. MVP this. Coach of the Year that. Best XI what? The Sounders didn’t care and punched LAFC right in the mouth.

In a weird way, I don’t think the Sounders beat LAFC this week if they hadn’t suffered that loss in April. Things were going too well for this team and they needed a setback to reccaliberate themselves. At the time, Chad Marshall was still on the roster and this was the first match of the season the Sounders played without him. Kim Kee-hee and Roman Torres got smoked by LAFC’s dynamic front line. It was obvious from the match in April that the Sounders needed a younger, more athletic centerback to eventually replace Marshall and possibly Torres. Enter Xavier Arreaga, who had his best game of the season in the 3-1 win over LAFC this last week.

Sometimes when we analyze the conference championship game, the answer to a problem is so glaringly obvious that we think it can’t be true. Much was made about how the Sounders had never beaten LAFC before their playoff matchup. But LAFC had never faced Raul Ruidiaz before or, frankly, anything like a full-strength Sounders. To say that Raul was the difference maker on Tuesday is an understatement. Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura are going to be having nightmares forever about that game.

I still believe what I wrote about six months ago. It’s still one of my firmest held beliefs in my life; that you cannot fully experience the peaks of joy without first experiencing the depths of pain. These things go hand in hand. As we experience the most joyous week of our Sounders supporting lives, let’s remember the pain that brought us here. Drink it up. These are the time of our lives, reader.