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Postgame Pontification: If past is prelude, the Sounders will be just fine

This is not the league start any of us wanted, but there’s still plenty of time to fix it.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For anyone who has been paying reasonably close attention to the way the Seattle Sounders have prioritized this season, very little about Saturday’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas should have come as a big surprise. That the starting lineup featured 10 changes from Wednesday’s Concacaf Champions League final — with the one holdover being a player who came out after only 10 minutes — was particularly predictable.

As I said following the Inter Miami game, annoying as it was to lose this game, the circumstances surrounding it are pretty easy to understand.

That said, no one who enjoys following this team nor those who work for it should be happy about where the Sounders sit in the standings: seven points in eight league games. You can put Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer at the top of that list.

What most frustrated Schmetzer was that his rotated lineup actually acquitted itself reasonably well and the game was stilled tied 0-0 when he started making subs. Dallas scored their first goal just two minutes after Schmetzer brought on a trio of his regular starters.

“There are probably people out there who will say it was an emotional win on Wednesday and this was always going to be a difficult game,” Schmetzer said in the postgame press conference. “How this game played out, we were playing well. I had in mind that we’d bring in some of the [starters] on. It was unfortunate that Jimmy [Medranda] came up with cramps. Whenever you bring in three at once, that’s a risk. I’ll own this one. The team performed well. We had one little mistake where we were caught flat-footed. That group was in the game.

“I’m not OK with the loss. We’ll learn from it.”

While Schmetzer might not be satisfied with the results, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic that the Sounders can still get their regular season back on track.

As much as Schmetzer has said that he didn’t feel as though the Sounders needed to sacrifice their league standing in order to make a run at CCL — and as much as that tradeoff seems well worth it today — it was probably unavoidable. It’s not just that the Sounders knew, even subconsciously, that CCL was the priority, there was a real physical cost that they had to endure.

The Sounders have had to play four or five more games than virtually every other MLS team up to this point, while also adding about 20,000 extra air miles to their ledger. Add in their league travel, and the Sounders have now logged about 25,000 miles roughly 25% of the way through their season. To put that into context, even pre-Covid, U.S.-based MLS teams rarely traveled more than 50,000 miles in an entire season. Suffice it to say, the Sounders' travel schedule is going to get easier.

While I don’t think too many people are genuinely panicking about the Sounders’ standing, I was curious how it stacks up against previous seasons. Specifically, I had a feeling that the Sounders tend to have a down period like this virtually every year and always manage to work their way out of it. As we all know, the path to 13 straight playoff appearances has not always been easy.

Looking at the last 10 years, I found that my perception is basically right. With the exceptions of 2014 and 2020, the Sounders have had an annual period of struggle at least on par with this eight-game stretch. In six of the seasons, the Sounders actually had worse runs at one point in a season or another — although mostly near the beginning.

In those six seasons, the Sounders have averaged about 55 points. To reach that target, the Sounders need to claim 48 points over the final 26 games, or an average of about 1.85 points per game. Over the previous two seasons, the Sounders have averaged about 1.77 points per game. If they were to replicate that over the final 26 games, they’d finish with 53 points, easily enough to make the playoffs and historically enough to finish with the fourth or fifth best record in the Western Conference.

Isolating last year, the Sounders had 51 points through the first 26 games and actually hit a high-water mark of 2.07 PPG after the 28th game. Their best 26-game stretch in 2021 saw them claim 53 points. If the Sounders were to replicate that run, they’d equal last year’s point total of 60. Now’s probably a good time to point out that we already know this year’s roster is good enough to win CCL and that even without João Paulo for the rest of the season, they will likely be healthier than they were for any extended period than they were in 2021.

I bring this all up not to hand-wave away the start to the MLS campaign, but more as a reminder that there’s a lot of season left to play and the Sounders have given us plenty of reason to believe that they’ll be just fine.