I wish all of you a very Happy Holiday season and look forward to seeing you all next year in person. Took me a while to reflect and edit this. Rewrote it a few times. I hope your readers will get something from my thoughts. It was good for me to write my feelings down on paper ... it helped. All credit to my staff, Tommy, Gonzo, Djimi, and Preki for their wisdom and guidance.
To all Sounders,
As 2020 comes to a close, and in the aftermath of a tough loss, I am writing this to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season, an end to the drama within the political theatre, and certainly a Covid response that will keep us all safe to allow us to see each other again soon in the South End. It has taken me some time to reflect on the game and the outcome of a crazy year. So here goes nothing...
The year after winning the Cup at home in front of 70k was always going to have challenges. MLS is not designed for “dynasties”. That word (and expectation) is not a bad word, but more a complicated thought. We always come into a season with set goals, standards that we as Sounders embrace and do not shy away from. The team must always hold themselves accountable within the group, I must be held accountable by owners and the fans, and establish a high bar for myself and the staff. We understand these as principles and a good way to ensure success. Whether you are a person who “loves winning” or “hates to lose”, we chose to strive for success in all the ways a great sports franchise should. We have active engagement with our fans, we give back to our communities in many different ways, and we have had success on the field.
Within a season, there are always ebbs and flows, highs and lows, but 2020 featured different competitions which felt like three separate seasons. After a long but well-planned preseason, CCL was supposed to be a great way to start our year. Olimpia was a great competitor and the fact it went to PK’s meant the result in the final game was 50/50. João Paulo’s insertion to our team early in the season was a good sign but we did not meet expectations.
The regular season then became the focus, which translated itself into a tournament that I still believe was a good thing. We needed to play; there were risks, but most teams and MLS on a league level did a good job putting forth Herculean efforts to pull this off. Our doctors and medical staff made adjustments to protocols and off we went. Mixed results were spoken about internally. Coaches were searching for ways to be more consistent. Portland becoming MLS is Back champions is something they can be proud of, but that will hopefully be a one-off competition within MLS and will be a footnote in history.
Upon returning from Orlando, we built our own bubble here at home and I give the entire group much credit for containing the few cases of Covid using the additional safety protocols and our doctors’ advice. Head trainer Chris Cornish and his staff deserve recognition and praise. When games came again things got interesting. Good results started to come. There was some talk of Supporters’ Shield success which I tried to address head on. We messaged that, yes, focus on the next game and Shield success will come, but there is now an eerie notion that when we took a dip in form it coincided with Shield talk in the press and within the group.
Then came the run to the Cup. One more point ... remember one more point would have allowed us to host the final. Playing away from home in a cup final is never easy. What we learned from 2017 was translated into 2020 preparations, but the one thing that sticks out now is we were under pressure in each away final. We needed the resolve of 2016, and even in 2019 until things broke with Kelvin’s goal there were tough times to overcome. Versus the Crew I had hoped our possession would see us through until changes could be made, but I was wrong. Starting Gustav, who has shown his toughness even if he would have needed a sub, was hindsight and a lesson to be learned from. Similar to 2017, I chose a path of the playing a skillful team with intentions of possession/creating chances, and with having three Best XI players I felt we could achieve those objectives.
Individuals make errors but this is a team sport. One player is not responsible for a win or loss. I will reverse the blame game and explain my belief. In 2019, Victor Rodriguez was MVP and received the deserved credit. His goal was a well-taken wall pass with Nico which showed his class and technical ability. But, the lead up to his heroics was possession lost, then Gustav stepping forward and sliding to keep Toronto from establishing possession. Ball gets to Victor and the rest is history. Not many remember Gustav’s contribution to the play. Same with the goals taken versus Columbus — numerous people had chances to finish the threat, but blame must be placed.
I accept the success and failure of the club, and with that the result in the 2020 final. It is my job to give players the tools and the confidence to be successful. When the “D” word started to surface, we did our best to dampen this talk; after Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos were ruled out we doubled down on that messaging. Columbus had two more reasons to give maximum effort and play free. A game plan was made, coaches and players believed they could win. But the dynasty tag lingered somewhere in the background as motivation for our opponent. As much it pains me to say, Caleb prepared his team well, and were deserved victors on that day.
Making the final and losing in that way hurts even more than if we never got there. We were so close to achieving a feat that will be hard to ever accomplish again in MLS — to repeat as champions. I believe the common thread of the last five seasons was a desire and commitment from the players and staff to do special things. That never changes. It drives all of us. Seasons that are matched with the expectations and faith of our fans — the basic definition of Our Club. I promise to do better, learn, and adapt. I am proud of the players; they gave their collective energy in a challenging year and I see no reason why they cannot again challenge the parity narrative and achieve someone’s dynasty status.
Our goal as Sounders is to crush the Caps and Timbers, win trophies and let people judge us as they will. We know who we are, what we stand for and what success means to us ... EBFG!