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Ship’s Log, Sept. 11: To be the least worst in the West

The weekend’s MLS action provided a long look at just how bad the West is as the Sounders rest up to punch their way out of a wet paper bag.

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Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

It’s a weird season in MLS, this one. You’d be hard pressed to find a single person who would tell you the Sounders have had a good year up to this point, but still with six games left to play they sit in second in the West. That position was somewhat strengthened by the weekend’s results in MLS, when third-place LAFC lost 2-0 on the road against the Portland Timbers and first-place St. Louis City SC drew 2-2 away to the LA Galaxy.

That result puts St. Louis seven points ahead of Seattle, but with the same number of games played, and leaves LAFC tied with RSL a point behind the Sounders with 40 but a game in hand. I bring this up to illustrate that the West is bad or at least not up to its usual standard. But one team is going to crawl out of the smelly pit that is the Western Conference to compete in the 2023 MLS Cup Final. Some potentially rancid team from this godforsaken conference is going to have a real shot at the title, and once you get there anything can happen.

That team could be the Sounders. They’ve reached this point and this position by largely still being pretty stingy when it comes to their defense. Seattle have allowed 29 goals through 28 games; only Nashville SC have allowed fewer, with 27 allowed in 27 games. Even as the offense has sputtered – only 4 of 18 teams currently in playoff position have fewer goals than Seattle’s 34, and two of them are the West's Nos. 8 and 9 teams the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas with 32 and 29, respectively – that defense has kept them in games and in the hunt. The 2-2 draw against Portland extended an 8-0-2 run in games where the Sounders have scored more than one goal in MLS this season.

What I’m saying is that the Sounders have teased the idea that they’re a good team over the last several months, and for about an hour the last time we saw them out on the pitch they gave us the best show we’d seen since the long-forgotten High Life Soccer days of Spring 2023. They’ve paired those flashes and glimpses with some absolutely dreadful bits, though, which has left most of us feeling pretty disappointed at best. They don’t have to be at their best to reach the playoffs, and if the defense can keep it up they might not even have to get there to make a run.

It’s not particularly likely, and it probably won’t happen, but it could. I know it’s the hope that kills you, but we’re all going to die anyway and someone’s going to have to be the team that makes it out of the West. In a year that’s been frustrating and dumb, the dumbest possible outcome is that Seattle stumbles their way into a shot at lifting the MLS Cup again. The game could be ugly, that’s fine, we’ve been there. I’m sure Colorado Rapids fans don’t grumble about how they got the star over their crest in 2010, and I know I wouldn’t if the Sounders Keystone Copped their way to a third star of their own. It’s not particularly likely, and it probably won’t happen, but with a break from games I thought a lot about the fact that it still could.


Defining Defiance

Tacoma Defiance were the only local pro team in action this weekend as they welcomed Earthquakes II to Starfire. They didn’t make it easy on themselves - a second yellow for Frank Daroma in the 72nd minute left Defiance up 2-1 but down a man – but a goal and an assist from Reed Baker-Whiting helped pace them to a 3-2 win.

Baker-Whiting, playing as the right wingback in the side’s 3-4-3, had a nice cross to Braudilio Rodrigues for Defiance’s second goal, but his own goal to open the scoring was the true highlight. RBW hit an absolute peach in what is a growing collection of gorgeous goals for the youngster.

Rodrigues's goal marked his 13th of the season, putting him at 13 goals, 4 assists for the season. Paul Rothrock scored the winner, giving him 6 goals, 5 assists, as he ran onto a throw from Brazilian fullback Pedro Rodrigues.

OL Reign have an opportunity to bounce back from their frustrating elimination from the Challenge Cup – and with plenty of other potential distractions floating around – with the perfect game to pour all of their focus into when they head down to Providence Park to face the Portland Thorns on Saturday at 7:30 PM. Two points separate the Thorns in 2nd place from the Reign in 4th place, and Portland will be looking for their first home win over their rivals since April 21, 2021. There’s a little extra incentive for the home team with a chance to exact vengeance against a major antagonist in the rivalry as Megan Rapinoe potentially makes her last visit.

That game could have serious implications in the NWSL table and the races for both the Shield and playoff places. The NWSL season is very much at the business end, and it’s getting incredibly hard to predict what’s going to happen.

Bruce Arena is officially out at New England

MLS didn’t completely stop for the international break, even if the Sounders did. Although there were some pretty big results - playoff hopefuls Inter Miami claiming a come-from-behind win over SKC without Messi’s help, and the Portland Timbers beating LAFC 2-0 at Providence Park – the biggest news around the league this weekend was the announcement that Bruce Arena resigned from his roles with the New England Revolution following allegations that he had made "insensitive and inappropriate remarks."

The investigation into Arena’s remarks and behavior stemmed, in part, from reports made by assistant coach Richie Williams, a former MLS player who spent time with DC United playing for Arena, and who joined Arena’s staff when he moved to New England in 2019.

While other pro teams abandon Oakland, the Roots and Soul are further tying their future to the city. The organization will launch an effort on September 13 to become an incredibly rare thing in professional soccer in the U.S.: a community-owned club (at least in part). For as little as $100, fans have the opportunity to become owners as the club seeks to raise at least $2 million to further solidify their future and their place in the community. They’re building something truly special, and now more than ever they’ll be “Oakland first always."