The Seattle Sounders’ 2023 season is over after a 1-0 loss at home to LAFC. Losing sucks. The losses that are the worst are the ones you have no control over and make you feel helpless. Maybe worse than that are the ones you see coming.
That's of course a very dramatic opening to a column that is ostensibly about a sports team. Being a fan, being as invested in the rise and fall of the Sounders as we are is absurd on it's face, of course. However, for whatever reason this team matters a lot to us and it's completely valid for us to feel the pain of loss – even if it's just a scoreline at the end of a season.
Part of being so committed to winning is the risk of losing. We do not get the euphoric joys of Roman Torres' scoring a that penalty kick in 2016 without the pain of seven seasons before that of coming up short. The bliss of watching the Sounders lift their second MLS Cup trophy at home on a Sunday afternoon in the fall of 2019 doesn't happen without the pain of watching your fiercest rival win at home the year prior with a car show happening on the concourse.
You get the point. You already knew the point. Joy is closely related to pain. There's plenty of books, movies, and songs to prove that point. But the most important part about this exchange is that it is not a passive relationship. The hero doesn't win the battle without a fight. You aren't the person you are now after the worst day of your life without the resolve you had to change your circumstance. We've all stood at that crossroad in life and have chosen the path we ended up on.
The Sounders now stand at a crossroad after their loss on Sunday night. On the eve the 50th anniversary of the club's existence, there are questions that need clear answers to in order to use this pain for future joy. With all of that said, here are the things I think I know about this team heading into the offseason:
Good enough wasn’t good enough
Shortly after the Sounders exited from the Leagues Cup with a pretty pathetic showing of themselves, Aaron Campeau and myself recorded an episode of Nos Audietis where I made a passionate plea for the Sounders to show us something for the rest of the year. I suppose for me to sit here in November and say what they ended up doing wasn't enough to win a trophy is, in fact, hypocritical. However, I'm the one that has to live with myself and I'll deal with that.
Part of the reason why I'm totally fine pointing out that the Sounders weren't good enough is they wrestled back their season from August to November. And they deserve a lot of credit for doing so. Things this summer were bleak and while in reality perhaps the Sounders were not really threatened with a playoff exit, the vibes couldn't have been worse. They were playing far off their own standards and were not exciting to watch.
They got to a point where they went toe-to-toe with the defending MLS Cup champions and probably played well enough to win that game in most alternative realities. They wrestled back their season and quality to be "good enough" in November to win a pivotal playoff game. On the night, they fell short. But overall they should be proud of themselves and Brian Schmetzer deserves so much credit for getting it to that point.
A changing of the guard
So, how'd that happen? Schmetzer made four big personnel decisions midway through the season that brought out a new tactical system. The biggest calls were moving Albert Rusnák to the 10 and benching club legend Nico Lodeiro. The Sounders manager also benched Raúl Ruidíaz and moved Jordan Morris to striker.
These two moves left holes on the left wing and in midfield. Those holes were filled with Léo Chú and Josh Atencio, to varying degrees of success. Chú was the natural successor to the left wing position because no one else on the roster can play there realistically. He was ... hot and cold. Chú was not good enough to be seen as the bonafide starter at the position moving forward.
Atencio was a revelation along side João Paulo and the Seattle front office should be planning on him being in the starting lineup next season and beyond. The midfield trio of Rusnák, Atencio and João Paulo provides so much balance and control for the Sounders. It was this combination of balance and control that gave Seattle the platform to propel themselves into the playoffs. It's legitimately very good for an MLS midfield.
By changing things up during the season, Schmetzer was able to give his comrades in the front office some very valuable information for the upcoming offseason.
Most important offseason ever
Without putting too fine of a point on it, the Sounders enter the offseason on the cusp of a massive rebrand, a move to a new training center and HQ, the 50th anniversary of the club, and with potentially two club legends to replace. Other than all of those things it should be a pretty quiet offseason.
Jokes aside, they just cannot whiff on this. Since lifting the Concacaf Champions League trophy in May of 2022, things on the field have been stale. This group has achieved all they could together and the squad needs a massive overhaul. No half measures. No cute moves. Heavy hitters are needed.
If you're expecting a major 2013-esque overhaul of the squad this offseason your expectations are misplaced. This is a good team with good bones and just needs some updates to hang at a modern level.
Bringing back Raul would be a mistake, but might have to happen
Ruidíaz has a year left on his deal and he's set to make around $3.2million for the 2024 season. The Sounders should try to do everything in their power to find a way to ensure that full hit isn't on the books for next season. There is a world where the 2024 season kicks off and Raúl is still on the roster, but what Seattle must do this offseason is find a proven replacement even if he still has to be on the roster. That's not necessarily a player in the same position, but it should be a player of similar impact.
The Sounders tried to get Raúl right with injuries this year, brought in a "viable" backup in Héber, and it simply didn't work. Raúl never really got healthy and we spent all season arguing about Héber's xG. I think the reasonable among us would be okay with Ruidíaz still being on the roster come next season, but what is clear as day is that he can't be relied upon. Even if they need to roster Ruidíaz to start the season, they'll have the flexibility to add at least one DP this offseason.
Farewell to the GOAT
Nicolás Lodeiro leaves Seattle as the greatest Sounder to ever do it. He has a legitimate claim to being the best foreign signing in MLS history, too. At the very least, he's in that level of conversation. And that's where he belongs. The stats, the cups, the memories, and everything in between. He well surpassed expectations.
I am sure we will dedicate plenty of column inches to his farewell, but Sunday night was the final time Lodeiro will play in front of Sounders fans. Thanks for everything, Nico.
Life and sports can be cruel. Chapters and eras don't ever really end as much as they sort of fade in and out of each other. It's really hard to pinpoint when one thing ends and another begins, but as the club embarks on their 50th year in existence, some hard decisions need to be made for the next era of the Sounders. As we've come to find out, losing sucks. May this be the page that needs to be turned in order to bring us the joy of winning yet again.