SEATTLE — As season finales go, well, it was a decent way to spend an afternoon.
Granted, for the Seattle Sounders, October matches universally have had much more significance than Sunday’s Major League Soccer finale against the San Jose Earthquakes. Generally, it’s more a cliffhanger, or a “will they, won’t they.” But not every episode can be an Emmy winner. And the end of the 2022 MLS season had already been spoiled.
So when you know the ending, it takes a bit of the fun out of watching. But there is still some value in watching, and when you’re playing a fellow playoff also-ran and the only things on the line are pride and game bonuses, you take what you can get.
And if nothing else Sunday’s 2-2 draw gave the fans in attendance a fair bit of entertainment, even though if by the end, it seemed more like the last 15 minutes at work when there’s not enough time to get a new project done, but you can’t clock out yet.
The lack of intrigue, with both teams eliminated from playoff contention before the match got underway, didn’t impact the match itself. And given the next competitive match for the Sounders won’t be for approximately four months — assuming the Club World Cup actually happens — the Sounders put on a representative display for the fans, not that was much in doubt given professional pride, and the prospect of a quick substitution should the effort not match expectations.
As for the match itself, well, if a game could summarize why the Sounders ultimately failed in their quest to make the playoffs, it would go a long way toward explaining it. Blown leads and dropped points at home over the course of a season is generally not a good way to go through sporting life, and in the end, the result summed up the season: Good effort, flashes of promise, but a failure to rise to the occasion when the moment called for it.
The Sounders managed quite the quick start against San Jose, and when Nico Lodeiro fired a shot past JT Marcinkowski inside 30 seconds, the refrain around Sounderland must have been, “how is this team not in the playoffs?” With a (nominally) positive goal differential on the season, it’s a fair question to be asked, but early leads like the one on Sunday were generally few and far between this season.
If the opening goal in the 1st minute raised questions of what might have been, conceding the equalizer three minutes later pretty much provided the answer why it wasn’t. A counterattack and an unfortunate bounce conspired to see the Sounders lose their early lead, par for the course in this most disappointing of seasons. And though they managed to restore their advantage later in the match, prosperity and the Sounders weren’t on speaking terms for most of this season.
Twilight of the gods
With the Sounders and Portland Timbers eliminated from postseason play, Northwest dominance of the MLS Western Conference ended with more of a thud than a swan song. Cascadia had ruled the roost for nearly a decade, and it will be the first time since 2015 that no teams from the Northwest will represent MLS in the title match. Whether it was worse to crash out on the last day, or have your fate determined ahead of time will be the only debate amongst the Cascadia Trio this offseason.
Quite a curtain call
There were precious few bright spots this season as spring turned to summer and to fall, but Lodeiro at least managed to turn in a full season with no injuries. While the workload may have slightly curbed his effectiveness over the course of the year, he managed one heck of a curtain call in the final match, which some quality finishing which was sorely lacking for the Sounders generally. With Raúl Ruidíaz unavailable for much of the summer, the Sounders were never able to make up for a lack of scoring punch, and Lodeiro’s two-goal performance was far too late to make a difference.
World Cup Fever
The Sounders will get an early start on the season, with a likely start date of Jan. 4 for training in anticipation of the Club World Cup. In the meantime, the only immediate mystery centers around which Sounders will join their national team rosters for the World Cup in about a month. The Sounders will likely have at least a couple of representatives, though whether any are representing the United States is far from certain. Injuries and a lack of production down the stretch from key contributors could mean that the offseason for some Sounders is far longer than they might have expected back in the spring.