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To some degree, Sounders must own their struggles

Sounders can’t simply trust that results will improve simply because they’ve been here before.

Last Updated
3 min read
Alex Gallardo-USA TODAY Sports

Through five games, the Seattle Sounders are winless with just two points. That equals the worst start in their MLS history (2013). They are in last place in the Western Conference, just a single point above current Wooden Spoon “leaders” the New England Revolution (who have the excuse of playing in Concacaf Champions Cup).

Saturday's 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy marked the fourth time in five games that the Sounders have failed to score a goal from open play. They did a better job of creating some scoring chances and tilting the field, but they failed to score against a Galaxy defense whose last shutout was nearly seven months ago (Sept. 2, 2023) and had given up at least two goals in each of their past three games.

As former NFL head coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your results say you are”, and right now the Sounders are a bad team.

That doesn’t mean the Sounders are doomed to stay this bad or that there weren’t positives signs, but I think it’s also important to recognize that a five-game winless streak – especially one at the start of the season – begs to be called both unacceptable and genuinely concerning.

What makes this even more frustrating and why it all feels so raw is that we’ve been here before. It was only 2022 that the Sounders missed the playoffs. Just last summer, they went through a similar stretch as this one, winning just 3 of 14 matches.

At least externally, the Sounders are using that as a way of grounding themselves.

“We’ve gone through spells like this before, probably even worse,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said in the postgame press-conference. “Unfortunately this spell is at the beginning of a season and that’s where it changes. We’ve gotten out of this. We’ve dealt with adversity a lot. I know we have a strong locker room and we’ll have a tough training week and will prepare as well as we have been. It’s not fun to go through these downs but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and we have to believe that. We really believe we can get out of this.”

Stefan Frei espoused a similarly forward-looking ethos.

“There’s still 87 points to play for,” he said when asked about the record-tying start. “At some point it’s going to have to change. We have to keep working hard, believing. We pressed hard as a unit and worked hard as a unit. It’s more frustrating to not be rewarded. Hopefully that’s when the floodgates open. We have to find the positives, focus on the positives because everything else is garbage. Whether we’re looking at negative records, you know where you are. Eventually if you keep working hard and sticking together it will improve.”

I don’t begrudge the players for feeling this way. It’s a fine line between acknowledging your failures and succumbing to them. This is still the same roster that virtually every pundit picked to win the Western Conference and to compete for MLS silverware.

But I also think there’s a potential in danger in shutting out the criticisms. Toward the end of 2022, as the season seemed to be slipping away, Frei often talked about how there was a danger of taking things for granted. That the Sounders couldn’t afford to allow themselves believe that because they’d recovered from bad spells before that they’d eventually do the same thing.

After the Sounders failed to win any of their last four games to ultimately miss the playoffs, there seemed to be some genuine introspection by Brian Schmetzer and the coaching staff about what they could have done differently. One conclusion was that he was perhaps “too nice” and a little too trusting that underperforming players would turn things around once their margin for error disappeared.

We saw signs of him putting that to use last year, even if it took longer than seemed necessary. Leaders like Nicolás Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidíaz were eventually benched, while younger players like Josh Atencio and Reed Baker-Whiting forced their way onto the pitch.

Schmetzer would do well to put those plans into action sooner than later.

After the loss to the Galaxy, he asserted that “everything is on the table” in terms of potential personnel changes. Every spot should be under the microscope, from goalkeeper all the way to forward. The Sounders can not just wait to see what things look like once they finally get healthy in part because there’s no guarantee that day will ever come.

Schmetzer is fond of saying that “there’s no such thing as a must-win until the playoffs”, which is technically mostly true. Unfortunately, results aren’t always logical and neither are fans.

There might be 87 points left on the table, but the Sounders simply can’t afford to waste many more of them.