Sounders Look to Get Back on Track after Setback in New York
It has been just 8 days since the Seattle Sounders captured their 4th U.S. Open Cup title in five chances in just the last six seasons (with their previous title coming in 2011 and a loss in penalties in 2012). Over the past several years, this tournament has seemed to belong to the Sounders, and the team solidified that belief by scoring 2 goals in extra time against the Philadelphia Union on September 16th, coming from behind for the win.
However, all the joy that came from the U.S. Open Cup victory was seemingly negated when the Sounders headed to New York to take on the Red Bulls on September 20th. With poor outings from a squad that featured many reserves, the Sounders could only produce a single goal - coming from substitute Clint Dempsey - while Stefan Frei was outmatched by the Red Bulls offense. Needless to say, this was not the best outing for the Sounders - though it can not necessarily be a guage of the team being on a "decline" as nearly half of the regular starters sat on the bench.
Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse, as the Sounders came in to Dallas to face FC Dallas on September 24th. Hoping to put the tough loss behind them, the Sounders played like a team that had run out of steam - only substitute Lamar Neagle could score for Seattle. This was a Dallas team that the Sounders had beat two times already this season, yet Seattle looked out of its element down south and left the trip with 0 points. In an unlikely turn of events, after winning the U.S. open cup, the Sounders have given up 7 goals in just the last two away games they have played.
Now, there is definitely some concern amongst Sounders fans moving forward. With the Sounders' losses to New York and Dallas, they no longer sustain the lead of the Western Conference, remaining at 54 points - the same as 1st place L.A. Galaxy (Though the Galaxy lead due to goal difference, having a GD of 28 while the Sounders only have a GD of 9). The Soundersno longer have a game in hand, with both teams having played 29 matches, and with a 17-9-3 record, have to try and win every game in order to regain the lead of the conference.
Moving forward, the Sounders' next three opponents are Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, and Whitecaps FC, all of whom sit outside the top 5 in the Western Conference. After the match against Chivas USA, the Sounders will have played 5 games in just 15 days (September 12 - September 27) - a rigorous stretch for any team. Unfortunately for the Sounders, things only get more difficult as they close the season, with a road and away series against the LA Galaxy. If things remain how they are today - with the Sounders and Galaxy sitting atop the Western Conference, those two matches should prove to be the most significant games of the season for both teams.
For now, the Sounders aren't looking too far into the future, instead taking each game one at a time in order to gain the top seed in the west and move a step closer to the elusive Supporters' Shield - for the top seed in the league - as well as the MLS title. Based on the remaining schedule, I predict that the Sounders will go 3-1-1 over the final 5 games in the season (though as a Sounders FC supporter, I always wish for a 5-0-0 finish). It is now crunch time, and the team knows that in order to accomplish its lofty goals, every player has to step up and produce quality performances in all aspects of the game. If they can do that, then there is no doubt that this team - stacked with skilled players in every position - can take the league and win their way to the championship.