SEATTLE – Confidence has been a resource in short supply for the bulk of the Seattle Sounders’ season.
There was plenty of it at the start of the season, when they were scoring goals in bunches and stormed to the top of the Western Conference with a 5-1-1 record.
It started to drain almost immediately after they surrendered a late 1-0 lead and fell 4-1 the following week to the Portland Timbers.
The confidence tank was just about completely emptied during the summer when they were bounced from Leagues Cup after a pair of blowout losses and followed that up with a 2-0 loss at home in their first regular-season game back.
Slowly, but surely, though, the Sounders have been refilling the confidence meter while reeling off an unbeaten streak that is now at eight games following a 0-0 tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
“We’re taking some confidence from that unbeaten run,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “We’re taking some confidence out of shutouts. We’re taking some confidence out of the grit and bite we see.”
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As disappointing as the result was – the Sounders will finish their home campaign with just 1.59 points per game, the lowest in their 15-year MLS history – it was also somewhat emblematic of how the season has turned back around. Even though the Sounders never really found their breakthrough game where they just smashed someone 3-0, what they have is something arguably more sustainable. Following a stretch of allowing at least two goals in 5 of 6 games, the Sounders have given up just seven goals during this unbeaten run. After going 11 games without a shutout, the Sounders have now posted two in three games and allowed just 14 total shots in those matches. Although they only won seven home games, they also only allowed 11 goals at Lumen Field. Their .65 goals allowed per home game is the lowest figure in MLS and the best they’ve ever posted in a MLS season.
The Sounders obviously can’t rely on last-minute heroics as a sustainable pathway to victory, but they were in position for such a moment in all but one of the nine home games in which they dropped points this year.
“Those are small moments, but they can give you that confidence,” Frei said. “You stick with it and mounting the pressure until the opponent can’t find any solutions anymore and they cave. You can force your own luck. We’d love to win 3-0 or 4-0, that would be awesome."
Home matches this year have been mostly a study of frustration. Too often they've fallen somewhere between cagey and downright boring. On the flip side, the Sounders have been able to do the same to opponents when they're on the road. They've played 25 one-goal games this year, losing just five. Of course, that's also how playoff games tend to be. If the Sounders can get a result in their regular-season finale, there's a very good chance they'll have home-field advantage at least through the first round of the playoffs.
This is almost certainly going to be the last hurrah for the Sounders' veteran core. It's a group that has played in six finals, winning half of them. They probably didn't need all this extra experience in tight games, but it could serve them well.
“We’ve gone through a lot this year, gone through some tough, tough spells," Frei said. "I always say that builds character and come playoffs you’re going to need that.”