Driven by our general belief that the Seattle Sounders always figure out a way to be contenders, bolstered by an offseason that everyone seemed to agree went just about perfectly, and fed by the words of pundits outside the organization and voices inside of it, expectations for the 2022 season could have hardly been higher.
By the time the season kicked off, the question wasn’t so much “Could the Sounders win a trophy this year?” as much as “How many?”, and I’ll be the first to raise my hand in contributing to this chorus.
Roughly Two weeks in, however, it looks like we have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves.
Following Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, the Sounders have now played four competitive matches in 2022 and looked good in exactly one. Outside of the 5-0 win over Motagua — admittedly, by orders of magnitude the most important match they’ve played this year — the Sounders have looked, at best, disjointed. In those three other matches, they’ve played well enough defensively to concede just two goals, but have not scored any of their own nor looked particularly dangerous. The most shots they’ve mustered in those three matches is 10 against a packed-in Nashville SC, and they’re credited with a combined total of just 1.2 Expected Goals in the two MLS matches.
What’s most frustrating about that is many of us figured this team would be an offensive juggernaut based on the talent they’ve assembled. Adding to the frustration is that this all feels a bit like a continuation of how last year ended, when the Sounders went six games without a win in the regular season and were eliminated in the playoffs after failing to score at home. Add it all up, and the Sounders have now scored one goal or less in 10 of their last 11 games.
Now comes time for the caveats. As frustrating as this all is, I just can’t get myself worked up enough to be super worried. Like I said, the one must-win game the Sounders played, they looked very good. You can certainly argue that the scoreline was embellished by an opponent who seemed a bit disinterested once they had conceded twice, but the Sounders deserve full credit for putting Motagua to the sword and pouring it on. That second half — played entirely without Raúl Ruidíaz, I’ll note — was a very real world reminder of what this team is capable of when it’s all clicking.
But even in those other games, there are plenty of mitigating circumstances. The biggest is that the Sounders still haven’t gotten their much-vaunted front six onto the field together for literally any amount of time. The availability of those players has been so limited that I’m not sure how many training sessions they’ve even all participated in together. That we’ve not seen this team at its best so early in the season is actually pretty predictable.
Granted, part of the promise of this year was wrapped up in the idea that this roster was deep enough that they shouldn’t need all six of those players just to look offensively competent. The collective quality of play among the players who were supposed to provide that depth has certainly been disappointing. At the same time, we are talking about a sample size of three games. The first game was played after a disjointed offseason in which the game’s starters had only trained together a few times before playing in Central America. The second game was against a team that had the benefit of being solely focused on the MLS opener, promises to be one of the top defensive units and executed its gameplan just about flawlessly. The third game in the sample was honestly kinda useless for anything approaching serious analysis, as it not only featured a heavily rotated lineup in a stadium that has been more unkind to the Sounders than any other, but also included two-hour weather delay and was played on a field covered in a mixture of hail and snow.
Following the RSL game, Alex Roldan seemed to pretty much nail the way I felt. He was clearly very disappointed with the performance and pointedly rejected the idea that any of those mitigating circumstances somehow made it acceptable.
“Sometimes it’s not easy to play with new players, but there shouldn’t be any excuses not to step up,” he said. “We just came out a little flat. We needed a bit more from certain players ... and individually as well, I will certainly reflect on that what I could have done better. Rotation should never be an excuse to go defensive or not go for the win.”
For all the frustration, though, he was pretty clear-headed about what it means.
“I wouldn’t say morale is low, just the two games haven’t been as good,” Roldan said. “One of the benefits is we’re notorious for bouncing back. I’m sure you’ll see that and we expect to do that. I’m sure you’ll see better performances and hopefully get back to winning ways you’re used to.”
If that starts on Tuesday, I suspect all of this will be forgiven.