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Five thoughts on Sounders missing the playoffs

How will a proud franchise deal with its first-ever ‘dead-rubber’ match?

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

When the post-mortem on the 2022 season is written, the Seattle Sounders will enjoy two distinctive chapters. Well, one will be more enjoyable than the other, as after lackluster 1-0 defeat to fellow also-rans Sporting Kansas City, the book has closed on the competitive portion of the season. Of course, they have one more match to wrap up, but the defeat Sunday means the ending to the story is already written.

Not that most fans could be blamed for wanting to skip ahead to the end at this point. Results elsewhere once again provided a life preserver to the Sounders to save themselves, but the more they fought, the more they flailed. And in the end, they ran out of breath, and then out of time.

It was surely painful to watch the Sounders wilt under the pressure yet again, and even against a resurgent SKC, the Sounders were far from out of the match. But in some ways weren’t fully in it, a surprising development for a team fighting for their playoff lives. Aside from the injuries and suspensions and fatigue, something was missing for the Sounders, and in this match — like much of the rest of the season — they couldn’t find it.

Now they’ll have more time than they wanted to try to find it again.

The season was lost long ago

At the post-game presser, Sounders captain Nicolas Lodeiro demurred when asked about the impact of this match on the season, saying that the failure to qualify for the playoffs occurred long before the curtain finally closed. The Sounders trudged through a summer malaise — Summer with the Champs seems a distant memory — in which they repeatedly dropped points from winning positions, or tried and failed to fight back from early deficits. It was all too much to overcome ultimately, and the loss to SKC merely confirmed what most already knew.

No urgency

For a team that was seemingly desperate to keep its vaunted playoff streak alive, the Sounders were curiously mundane for much of the match Sunday afternoon. Having gone down early, the Sounders were able to mount something of an offensive after the halftime break. But then it was just ... gone, with Sporting Kansas City the more likely to add a second goal than the Sounders finding an equalizer. In the final moments of the match when their fate was all but sealed, the Sounders looked more resigned than resilient, something rarely seen in the Sounders history in MLS.

Neither were the horses

It’s a second season in a row where the Sounders have been unable to get healthy at the business end of the season. Whereas last year the Sounders were desperately trying to get their injured players fit for the playoff run, in 2022 there was no such light at the end of the tunnel, with the likes of Joao Paulo and Obed Vargas long since done, and Raul Ruidiaz similarly ruled out in advance of the must-win match. The Sounders were simply too wounded this time around to mount a sustained charge to the playoffs.

Stefan Frei does what he can

It was a near stand-on-your-head performance from Stefan Frei, who did what he could to at least give the Sounders a fighting chance. It was a tough year for Frei, victim to any number of lapses in concentration, errors and defensive breakdowns which left him stranded more often that he would have liked. Sounders fans aren’t used to seeing such a fragile defense that was punished for seemingly every mistake they made.

What team show up for San Jose?

While few outside the fans in attendance will be paying attention, the Sounders' first true “dead-rubber” match in club history will be interesting in at least one way. The Sounders have always had something to fight for in the last match of the season, whether it be seeding or making the playoffs. Next Sunday, with fellow has-beens San Jose Earthquakes coming to town, fans will see how the Sounders perform when the pressure is off. Jobs — and the fear of being yanked off the field if the effort isn’t there — will provide an interesting window into how a proud franchise deals with the disappointment of the end of a season that ends with unfulfilled promise.

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