One of the consistent refrains that Garth Lagerwey has offered through the years is this: “When we’re healthy, we’re as good as anyone.”
Whether it’s entirely by design or due at least in part to luck, the Seattle Sounders have consistently been near their healthiest this time of year. Notably, the one time in the previous four seasons that they didn’t make the MLS Cup final was when Cristian Roldan and Chad Marshall both got hurt during the playoffs.
Their relative health is a big reason why they’ll come into tonight’s match against Los Angeles FC riding a MLS record-tying 12-game home winning streak in the playoffs.
It’s also why the Sounders should feel good about their chances in the game. When they’ve been at something close to full strength this season, the Sounders have been among the best teams in the league.
In fact, whenever six of Raúl Ruidíaz, Nicolás Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, João Paulo, Gustav Svensson and Joevin Jones the Sounders are 7-2-0 (2.13 points per game) and have outscored opponents 26-9.
Heading into the postseason, there’s no reason to doubt this core group of players can continue their form. The six of those players who have playoff experience have combined for 21 goals and 25 assists spread out over 80 appearances. In Ruidíaz (7 goals), Lodeiro (7 goals) and Morris (5 goals), the Sounders have three of their top four all-time postseason goal-scorers. Jones (7 assists), Lodeiro (7 assists), Ruidíaz (4 assists) and Svensson (3 assists) are the top four players in that category as well.
“They’re killers, assassins,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said about his attacking players’ performance in the postseason. “They score important goals. They score big goals all the time.”
One only needs to look back to the last time these two teams played in the postseason for a reminder of how deadly they can be.
After falling behind early on an Eduard Atuesta free kick goal, the Sounders came roaring back with three unanswered strikes. First, it was Ruidíaz scoring from the edge of the penalty area off a combination with Lodeiro and Morris. Lodeiro struck next off a feed from Jones. Ruidíaz then closed out the scoring in the second half with his second goal and another assist from Lodeiro. Svensson chipped in with three tackles, while helping to control the midfield.
Adding João Paulo to the mix — who was notably absent the one time the Sounders were significantly outplayed by LAFC this year — would only seem to strengthen this core that now features three MLS Best XI players. It’s enough to openly wonder if this is the best collection of talent the Sounders have ever had, even if Schmetzer isn’t quite ready to consider that possibility.
“I don’t think the story of this club has been written yet,” he said. “If the team does well, we beat LAFC, make it to MLS Cup, our road is pretty tough. If this team is able to beat three very challenging playoff teams, I might entertain having that discussion.”
Schmetzer may not want to look too far ahead, but if this team can make it back to MLS Cup — and especially if they win a third — there will be no denying their place in history.