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The Review: Sounders vs. the Fire

We’ve got a pretty good idea of who the Sounders are, and it’s pretty good.

Last Updated
5 min read
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders went into their match with the Chicago Fire in an odd position. Sitting just outside the playoff places in the West, coming off of a dramatic come-from-behind victory against FC Dallas and rolling into the second game of a three-game home stand against a trio of teams all outside the playoff places by varying degrees, the Sounders were on the rise and poised to continue rising.

At the same time that 3-2 win over Dallas revealed some possible cracks in the foundation the team was building. Léo Chú threw something of a tantrum when he was subbed out; Raúl Ruidíaz and Jordan Morris had the kind of heightened disagreement that’s a natural product of experienced players trying to pull their team out of a slump, and after the game both Ruidíaz and Nouhou went to the tunnel and skipped out on the team’s acknowledgement of the fans. They subsequently were held out of training and the plans for the Fire game. To make matters more tense, despite a decidedly winnable game at the weekend, the fact that through 20 games Seattle had yet to win back-to-back league games loomed over proceedings.

The team played one of their worst halves of the season — featuring an opening half-hour that was especially awful — and went into halftime trailing 1-0 to one of the worst teams in the league. For the third time in 10 days, though, the Sounders clawed their way back to claim a result and started their first winning streak in MLS play of the season. As I’m filling in for Mark this week, I just wrote the game recap and Jeremiah has a handle on what we can take away from this specific game, I think this is a good time to take a bigger picture look at things. So where does this all leave the Sounders now?

Dissecting the narrative

It’s fair to say that the Sounders haven’t lived up to the expectations that a lot of people had for them going into the season. Critical injuries and absences at the start of the season left the team reeling and trying to find creative answers to problems they thought they’d already solved. The series of injuries to Pedro de la Vega was the biggest of those issues, particularly because his absence left Seattle with a team that was arguably worse on paper than the team they rolled out last season based solely on the fact that the best players were a year older and club legend Nico Lodeiro is now suiting up for Orlando City SC. As a result it wasn’t until the sixth game of the season that the Sounders won their first game. They went 2-5-3 in the first 10 games of the season.

There was plenty of cause for concern during that 10-game run, and to be clear that cause for concern is not entirely gone, but that run of games is not who the Sounders are. Looking just at their performances in MLS, the Sounders have since gone 5-2-4 in the 11 league games that followed. That stretch of games includes the first win over the Portland Timbers since 2021, two separate four-game unbeaten runs, three consecutive come-from-behind results, and for the first time this season back-to-back wins.

There is still the fact that in those three results they did have to go behind in order to come from behind in the first place. Against the Houston Dynamo and Dallas they went down 2-0 before fighting their way back into the match. The game between the two four-game unbeaten runs in league play was what could have been a truly dispiriting road loss against a genuinely awful Sporting Kansas City side despite taking an early lead. There have been defensive lapses and goalkeeping errors, the attack is improved but still feels a little short of reliable, and although de la Vega has made his return to play and is working back to being able to contribute regularly, the team still lacks a legitimate, bonafide superstar the likes of which the teams at the top of the table can call on to break open a game, dominate their opponents and absolutely blow even solid teams away week after week.

The Sounders have a sizable collection of good to very good players who have been playing much closer to their best in this stretch of games. Jordan Morris has been showcasing his ability leading the line as the starting striker and creating goals for himself or others directly or indirectly by doing so, Albert Rusnák looks a lot more like a legit DP creator, and João Paulo looks more like peak JP more often than not in recent weeks. To augment and strengthen those players Cristian Roldan has dropped back to play rightback and put in some of his best performances, and Paul Rothrock has forced his way onto the field and made himself a must-play whether that’s as a starter or the first guy off the bench as he’s scored two goals, drawn a penalty and just generally changed games with his energy and effort.

Seattle sit in 9th place as we head towards the third and final game of this home stand with a chance to push more solidly into playoff position with a win against the lowly New England Revolution. If PdlV and the team can successfully work him back to full fitness and keep him there, getting him more integrated with the team and more familiar with the other players it’s not hard to see the Sounders (as currently constructed) as a 4th place team, possibly capable of pushing a place higher with some bounces in their favor. Maybe that’s a team that can win the U.S. Open Cup and make some noise when the playoffs come around, but the Supporters’ Shield is out of the question and you probably wouldn’t consider them favorites to win another MLS Cup.

The coming run of games ahead of Leagues Cup and leading into the opening of the summer transfer window will be an important stretch for confirming one’s priors. In these five games, there are three games against teams in some sort of crisis, a home meeting with LAFC, a trip to face Sacramento Republic FC in an Open Cup quarter-final, and three of the five will be played at Lumen Field. It’s a chance to beat up on some bad teams, move a step closer to a fifth Open Cup trophy, and a very real test against one of the absolute best teams in the league. A strong series of performances and results to match could provide a springboard for the Sounders to finish the season much closer to the expectations placed on them before the season started than where they were three weeks ago.

In order to reach those heights there almost certainly need to be some changes to the roster in this window. With the rumors of a possible Obed Vargas transfer Seattle could potentially have the ability to go out and get a genuine game-changing talent if they can open up a DP spot or find a high-level talent who can occupy a TAM or U22 spot.

As it stands the Sounders aren’t the awful team it looked like they might be at the start of the season, and they’re not favorites to win the West either. What they are is a pretty good team that doesn’t give up easily, and with some luck and possible upgrades they could be something truly special. Only time will tell.