After the first leg of the CCL semifinal, Albert Rusnák spoke about the difference between his positioning in the game versus New York City FC relative to his positioning against Minnesota United. Specifically, he said that neither stemmed from a pregame tactical decision. Instead, both games evolved based upon where he and the other Sounders midfielders found the spaces between their opponents. After the Minnesota game, João Paulo talked about how the midfield triangles pulled the Loons out of shape and created opportunities. Seeing and creating those opportunities was the point. Watching the exquisite 13-pass sequence that yielded the Sounders’ first goal against NYCFC, it becomes very apparent that the result evolved spontaneously. The moment wasn’t choreographed. It was jazz.
These samples all relate to the elusive idea that when soccer reaches a certain level it becomes a game of fluid states. You and your teammates read the game on the fly, make decisions, then take actions based on the constantly evolving state of the game from moment to moment. Great teams achieve this fluid dynamic in progressively smaller and smaller amounts of space and time. Then these small spaces suddenly expand to use the entire pitch. These teams develop instinctive trust in each other and inherently know how their teammates will respond to their personal choices.
Watching the Sounders players reveal the tip of Schmetzer’s Iceberg over the past few weeks, I’m struck by the emotional intensity they express toward this development. Their focus captivates me. How many times has Schmetzer recently talked about enjoying watching the games? They’re all fascinated by the possibility of what happens next in each game. Think about that for a moment — the entire franchise feels giddy about what may happen in the very next moment.
That implies something beyond tentative forays, game plans, fears or club aspirations. That’s approaching the game with the commitment to trust in wonder. The ‘next game’ ceases to be a mantra and suddenly manifests as soccer in the moment. Imagine coming to work each day anxious to see what your colleagues do and how those actions elevate your performance to accomplish things that amaze you. What intensity would you contribute to that honor?
Now consider what that means for us as fans. If the team approaches a game anticipating what wonders the next moment might reveal, can we do any less? I have no idea what will happen on Wednesday night in New Jersey, but I find the frisson of anticipating what might happen intoxicating. After two seasons of pandemic football, a parade of injuries and social unease, I’m struck with hope. I’d forgotten what honest, joyful anticipation felt like.
No cynicism held in reserve. No cautious optimism. Just raw, undiluted, glued to the edge of my seat desire to be a spectator. Free to wear my Sounder@Heart on my sleeve and savor the game as a game. To grab my scarves and surrender to awe. Because I sincerely wonder what happens next.