During their 11 MLS seasons, the Seattle Sounders have never taken us on a ride quite like the one we went on this year. While their blazing hot start helped ensure that they never actually slipped below the playoff line, the performance on the field was uneven to say the least. Off the field, it was even more of a ride as the we seemed to go from one crisis to the next sometimes even having them overlap.
In the end, though, I think we’d all have a hard time saying we should feel anything but thankful for how it ended. In no particular order, here’s some of the things in the Seattle soccer scene we were most thankful for this year:
Brian Schmetzer learning to flex
Perhaps no coach with Schmetzer’s resumé has had to endure doubters quite like him, with pundits openly questioning him in just about every way. This year, he finally puffed out his chest. We saw it most obviously in the win over Los Angeles FC in the Western Conference finals, but there were signs of him showing a bit more personality throughout the year as he’s looked increasingly comfortable in his role. Throughout it all, he continues to spread credit around to an almost absurd degree. There’s no doubt that he’s a feel-good-story, but he’s also proving to be so much more. He’s now just one of five coaches with at least two MLS Cup wins (and tied for second most), he’s got the best playoff winning percentage (.765) and has the fifth most wins after just four years (12).
Jordan Morris’ growing confidence in his left
This has been a breakout way in multiple senses for Jordan Morris, but perhaps the single biggest sign of his progress was his willingness to use his left foot around goal. Morris has insisted that he’s always felt confident in his off-foot, but the national narrative had been that he simply didn’t have one largely because he showed such an obvious preference around the goal (just one his first 17 goals was with his left). This year, however, he scored six of his 13 MLS goals with his left while adding two primary assists as well. The narrative won’t quite die because U.S. national team fans cling to them like ... but we know better.
Raúl Ruidíaz saving his best for last
When Raúl Ruidíaz went scoreless in his final five games of the regular season, there was some reason for worries. It turned out he was just saving it up for one of the most impressive postseasons ever. Ruidíaz scored four times in four games, including two against LAFC and another in MLS Cup. All-time, Ruidiaz is up to seven goals in six playoff games, an average of 1.17 per game, easily the best postseason scoring average in MLS history.
Gustav Svensson quietly “picking up the shit”
In a year in which the Sounders seemed to never fully replace Osvaldo Alonso, it’s tempting to overlook the performances of Gustav Svensson. He doesn’t complete passes at nearly Alonso’s rate and his tackling isn’t as spectacular, but he always seems to be breaking up plays and doing the little stuff that helps teams win. Rarely has he been better than in MLS Cup where he had a couple assists and generally allowed the Sounders’ stars to do their thing.
Having ownership who seems to genuinely care
The Sounders front office took some deserved heat for the way they handled the Iron Front situation, but in the end they deserve credit for listening to their fans. This is a group that cares deeply about the way they’re perceived and while it wasn’t easy or even without stumbles, they ended up helping facilitating an agreement the league and supporters could live with.
Xavier Arreaga continuing to tuck
It may not be the fashion statement we’d all choose to make, but it’s nice to see Xavier Arreaga continuing to be true to himself by tucking in his jersey. We also enjoyed watching him develop into what looks to be a very promising centerback.
The world paying attention to what Megan Rapinoe has to say
No one in the Seattle soccer scene broke out on the international stage anything like Megan Rapinoe did this year. She didn’t play close to as many games as we’d have liked for Reign FC, but she was the rightful winner of the World Cup Golden Boot while never pulling any punches in her public statements. Even better, she seems to be getting heard and setting herself up to be the kind of role model sports stars rarely are.
Watching Stefan Frei become a club legend
The only player remaining on the Sounders roster who predates Garth Lagerwey is Stefan Frei, who was acquired before the 2014 season. Forced to choose one player who is most likely to outlast Lagerwey, it might just be Frei. At 33 years old, Frei still seems to be as good as ever and it’s not at all hard to imagine him playing another five years here. His regular-season numbers were down a bit from his Goalkeeper of the Year-worthy seasons in 2017-18, but he was still among the best and shined in the postseason again. Along the way, he’s forged a connection with fans quite unlike any other player.
Nico Lodeiro’s love affair with Seattle
Even Nicolas Lodeiro probably doesn’t know how long he’ll be here, but it sure does seem as though he’s fallen in love with our fair city. The Sounders midfielder now has two MLS Cup titles in four years and seems to gearing up for a run at No. 3 next year. His son is allowed to be a fixture in the locker room and he seems to genuinely enjoy his interactions. We definitely love having him around.
That’s merely just a handful of things that we’re thankful for this year. What are you thankful for?