Through the ups and downs, the fits and starts, the joy and the madness, the 2020 regular season has been one quite like no other. In the end, though, it seems fair to say that the Seattle Sounders performed about as well as you could hope.
Despite playing eight fewer games than in any previous campaign, the Sounders still managed to post their best-ever goal differential (+21). Their 2.0 goals per game represents an all-time high-water mark, their 1.045 goals against average is better than any season since 2009, and their 1.77 points per game is better than any season since their Supporters’ Shield campaign of 2014.
Even after their late-season slump, the Sounders still managed to post an expected goal-difference of .95 per game. That’s more than twice as good as any other team in MLS this season and isn’t far off from the numbers posted by teams generally considered to be in the running for best of all-time.
Presented with some of these numbers following Sunday’s 4-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes and asked if this felt like a highly successful season, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer was clearly still trying to wrap his head around it himself.
“2020 hasn’t been anywhere close to normal,” he said. “You’re going to reflect on it, you always do that.”
When Schmetzer gives himself a chance to fully do that, I think he’ll like what he finds. I would never expect Schmetzer to say this himself, but I will: In many ways, this has been Schmetzer’s most impressive season to date.
Every season has presented its own challenges — from piecing together a clearly broken team to rebounding from awful starts to overcoming unexpected retirements — but 2020 was a different challenge entirely. While it’s true that literally every team dealt with vaguely the same challenges, few managed it better than the Sounders.
That Schmetzer was also doing it while having his contract status hanging over him only puts a finer point on everything.
The shame is that I don’t think Schmetzer was able to enjoy this season as much as he deserved to. This was set up at least a little bit as a victory-lap season. Schmetzer was coming off a season in which he led his hometown team to MLS Cup victory in front of friends, family and generations of fans. It was the first time since 2004 (Seattle Storm) and just the second time ever that a top-division professional Seattle sports team had clinched a title at home.
Starting with a victory parade that lacked a lot of star power, transitioning into the early exit from Concacaf Champions League and following that with a regular season that was paused after just two games, there was simply no time for Schmetzer to properly bask in the glow of his achievement.
Without reading too deep into any public comments, he never gave off the impression he felt totally settled once the season restarted. Schmetzer’s rapport with the press this year was uncharacteristically prickly at times and my sense is that the pressures he felt were more acute than in previous seasons.
If Schmetzer was feeling a different sort of pressure, he did an admirable job of keeping it off the field. The 2020 version of the Sounders were easily the most entertaining of the five he’s managed.
More so than in any other season, the Sounders developed a clear style of play that went beyond “work hard and get the ball to the guys we pay the most.” At their best, the Sounders pressed effectively, punished teams in transition and passed opponents into submission. The Sounders allowed one or fewer goals in 17 of 22 matches, won the possession battle in 16 matches and scored three goals or more in eight matches. The consistency allowed them to complete the season without consecutive losses for the first time in franchise history.
In Nicolas Lodeiro, Raúl Ruidíaz and Jordan Morris, Schmetzer had as talented of a trio as any in the league and no three teammates can match their 51 combined goals and assists. João Paulo and Cristian Roldan are the sort of two-way midfielders coaches drool over. The back five all have the ability to kickstart the offense from deeper positions or join in the attack themselves.
Schmetzer hasn’t always fully unleashed these various weapons, but he’s turned them into an effective attacking group that has remained sound defensively. This is no easy balance.
Schmetzer has not been perfect, I’ll admit. His bench has seemed unnecessarily short at times and this year has sometimes felt like a wasted one in terms of developing the youngsters. I’m inclined to give him a bit of a pass on all that, given everything else.
As the Sounders head into their 12th straight postseason, they are as well positioned as ever to win a third MLS Cup. Unfortunately, Schmetzer’s management will go largely unsung outside of Seattle. Don’t let that distract from this masterful display. Heap that on top of his undying commitment to both the Sounders and Seattle, the coaching staff he’s built around him and the trust he’s built with the players — to speak nothing of his all-time best win percentage and two MLS Cups — there should be no doubt he has earned a longterm extension. It’s time he gets it.