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Sounders continue to fight and win

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A team built on strong character continues to perform

SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders beat an Orlando City SC team that came to town with a completely changed starting lineup 2-1, a result that was far closer than it had any right to be. Sometimes that’s what happens, especially in a league like Major League Soccer. The Sounders’ performance summed up in one word? Paradoxical. They controlled the match, but were sloppy at times. Their performance was, I’d say, 75% dominant, but they also allowed a goal that Orlando had no business scoring. To be fair, it came directly after the Sounders went up 2-0, and for whatever reason, the referee took about 6 minutes to consult with his Video Assistant Referee.

It wasn’t their best performance by any stretch, and more will be written elsewhere about the match specifically, but something needs to be said about this team. Simply put, they’re very, very good.

The Sounders are 7-1-4, racking up 25 points through 12 games this season. They’re finally level on games played with mighty LAFC and only find themselves two points off LAFC’s blazing pace. In fact, if you take a look at the best teams in MLS history, the Sounders are matching the paces set by all of them through their first 12 matches. I picked a few.

Points Total Through 12 Games

Team Year Points after 12 games Total points
Team Year Points after 12 games Total points
Toronto FC 2017 25 69
Atlanta United 2018 25 69
Red Bulls 2018 16 71
LA Galaxy 2011 21 61
Sounders 2014 25 64
Quakes 2012 24 66
LAFC 2019 27 ?

It’s important to look at this team where they are at and give credit where the credit is due. The points are on the board and you can’t argue with that. The Sounders are not blowing away teams like LAFC, but they are doing something equally impressive: they’re finding ways to win matches and put points on the board in various ways and mostly without looking their best.

In a lot of ways, the match against Orlando is the summation of the paradox that this season represents so far. A game in which the Sounders could or should be comfortably dominant, but end up only winning 2-1 over a theoretically overmatched side. The win never seemed to be in doubt, but the match was never put out of reach, either. This has happened a couple of times this season, especially at home. In the matches against Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo, the Sounders got off to a great start and went up a goal early, but didn’t manage to truly put the game to bed until the final whistle. You could even argue that the Sounders found themselves in a similar situation against Colorado, when they scored twice inside 10 minutes and not again after that. It’s entirely possible that Seattle is comfortable relying on their veteran team to see out these victories, or it’s also possible that things haven’t quite clicked yet for the team.

The thing about this team is that they feel like they are on the cusp of greatness or a midseason slump, when in reality they are in the middle of those two things. As mentioned above, they are through roughly 35% of the season with a historic points total. But they’ve gone about this in unconvincing ways. To this point, they’ve won only 3 of their 7 matches by multiple goals. This is team that has historically been led by its defense, but they only have four clean sheets.

Following the Orlando match, Brian Schmetzer talked about the team’s character and desire to win.

“We have a good team.” Schmetzer said. “We’re going to be hard to beat because it’s engrained into our culture, into our team, into these players — they don’t like to lose. They never quit.”

At this point in the season, Sounders fans are used to having lost a majority of games, looking forward to a summer signing that coincides with a historic late-season run that puts Seattle in a good playoff position. Obviously, that’s not going to need to happen this season, but there’s still an anxiety that lingers around this team. The worry isn’t completely unfounded, though. The Sounders are racking up a list of injuries in key positions. As mentioned, they haven’t been at their best in recent weeks. Also, 6 of the Sounders next 7 games are on the road, and sandwiched in between that brutal stretch is a slew of international fixtures that could see as many as 12 players get called away, most of them with overlapping commitments.

So, I’m not going to be the one that says that Sounders fans shouldn’t worry, but I am going to be the one that says that Sounders fans have a reason to hope things will be just fine. Whenever the Sounders have been faced with difficulties this season — whether it’s injuries or in-game adversity — this team has found a way to fight and win. That isn’t necessarily something that can be quantified beyond the points total, but it has to be taken into account when evaluating the achievements of this season so far and looking ahead.

I’m not sure what the future holds for this team — all the outcomes make sense to me from a logical point of view. Success or failure. Ups and downs. Knowing all of that, I’m determined to enjoy this ride of a season. Embrace the paradox. It’ll only make the payoff sweeter.