Eventually, even the strongest of lions falls from the top of the pride.
The Seattle Sounders' reign as a member of the elite of Major League Soccer has spanned the entirety of their life in the league. Capturing a domestic title (U.S. Open Cup) in their first three years of existence, a Supporters’ Shield in 2014 and summiting the mountain top for their first league title in 2016, the Sounders seemingly capped their impressive run with the Concacaf Champions League title this past spring.
Victory, it appears, has its price.
A team not accustomed to losing has found new — and inventive — ways of racking up losses, with the latest coming in stoppage time Wednesday evening as the Sounders managed to blow yet another lead, the game, and most realistic hopes of qualifying for the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs.
It was another match where the Sounders by their own admission didn’t play up to the standard they’d set for most of their life in MLS. Even through the bad times, the Sounders were able pick themselves up and do at least what needed to be done to protect their turf. They may not have won every battle, but their foes at least feared them.
That mystique, it seems, is gone.
As it is in the wild, eventually the old guard is usurped and cast aside. Whether it’s injuries, old age or simply a more determined opponents, the law of the jungle is clear. Father Time, after all, is undefeated, and nobody lives forever. Not even sports writers.
Defense needs an overhaul
Whether it’s mindset, talent or tactics, whatever ails the Sounders can certainly be traced back to the fact the defense seems to be broken. The Sounders managed two shutouts over the last two months and conceded multiple goals since the last clean sheet on Aug. 2. As Albert Rusnak noted after the match, at some point scoring two goals on the road has to be enough to get a result, particularly when you score both of them first. But that’s pretty difficult when you concede two penalties in the match.
Offense needs to be more dangerous
The Sounders were certainly efficient with their chances, converting two of the three shots on target. But they were outshot 19-8 and only managed three corners throughout the match. It’s something the Sounders thought they were on the way to solving with the switch to a two-forward formation, but the attack simply hasn’t been dangerous enough consistently enough, which puts additional pressure on a fragile defense to hold the line.
Sounders look tired — or worse — old
Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey brought the band back together to make a run at Champions League and MLS Cup. The successful run cost them a good start to the MLS season, and the Sounders expended a significant amount of energy trying to make it up in the early summer. It appeared to succeed ... until it didn’t, and it looks more likely than not that this is a team that has been running on fumes for longer than expected. The reliance on veterans to provide the depth, which worked so well in the early part of the year has finally caught up with them, and the late game magic is gone.
Bad run of luck, too
Not that the Sounders will take much consolation in this, but even with their myriad issues, this isn’t a team that should be mired in the bottom half of the MLS table. With a -1 goal differential, the Sounders must look around and wonder, “how the hell did we get here?” While the penalties in this match were correct, the last-second winning goal deflected of a helpless Jackson Ragen was a cruel reminder about how unfortunate the ball can bounce.
Looking into the wilderness
The Sounders haven’t been officially dethroned, though the writing is on the wall for all to see. The Sounders will continue to fight because that is what they do, but should what appears to be inevitable happens, and they are finally cast out into the MLS wilderness, they can take some solace in their reign. And while nobody may live forever, the good news is that in sports, nobody stays dead either. Just ask the Mariners.