Sounders on pace for historic season

Seattle’s good coaching, explosive offense, overall strong play and positive results reflected in midseason grades

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comJune 9, 2014 

Sounders midfielder Marco Pappa (10) celebrates a goal with teammate Lamar Neagle of Federal Way in one of Seattle’s best performances so far this season, a 4-0 victory over then-undefeated Real Salt Lake. The Sounders have 32 points through the first 15 MLS games, on pace for an MLS season-record 72 points.

JOHN LOK/SEATTLE TIMES

The Seattle Sounders have reached the World Cup break on pace to have the best Major League Soccer season ever.

They also could put together a pretty good blooper reel.

This season so far has included twice as many wins (10) as losses (three) and draws (two) combined.

But it also has included a ball bouncing over the head of goalkeeper Stefan Frei for a Dallas goal, a 40-yard Vancouver chip into the open net that Frei evacuated, and a Toronto goal set up by a Marco Pappa backpass into open space eventually filled by Jermain Defoe.

Through the first half of their sixth season, the Sounders have been Sandra Bullock in “Gravity,” dealing with one calamity after another before finally willing themselves to a better place. Their path up the mountain has taken them over boulders and through thickets, but what a lovely view they now enjoy.

“We like it up there,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We want to continue to stay there.”

That comment came after Seattle’s latest harrowing adventure: a 3-2 win at Chicago on Saturday that serves as a fair microcosm of the season so far. In the first half, the Sounders were ahead by two goals and playing with a one-man advantage.

By the end, it was a 10-against-10 struggle that Seattle survived only after a couple of acrobatic saves by Frei.

“We went into this game saying we wanted to have 32 points after 15 games,” Schmid said. “And that means we’ve had a really, really good run.”

It is, in fact, a historically good run. The Sounders’ average of 2.13 points per game puts them on pace for roughly 72 through the 34-game regular season.

That would top the existing league record of 68 points, accumulated by the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1998.

Other numbers add up positively, as well.

The Sounders lead MLS in goals (32), assists (30) and shots on goal (87). They also lead the league in fouls suffered (259), an indication that opponents have decided the best way of dealing with Seattle’s offensive talent is to knock it down.

Even at that, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are tied for third in the league with eight goals each. That puts both on pace to top Eddie Johnson’s single-season club record of 14. Martins is tied for second in MLS with a career-high six assists.

Newcomer Kenny Cooper already has a career-high four assists. And those 10 wins are a career high for Frei.

Below is a Sounders report card, as the league prepares to pause for the FIFA World Cup beginning Thursday in Brazil.

FORWARDS

Those 16 combined goals make Dempsey and Martins the most productive tandem in MLS. Each would have to be considered for MVP of the league. The quality of veterans such as Cooper and Chad Barrett provides comforting depth.

GRADE: A

MIDFIELDERS

The pedigree here is amazing. The Sounders could start Pappa, a two-time All-Star with 30 caps for Guatemala; Gonzalo Pineda, a Liga MX veteran with 44 caps for Mexico; Osvaldo Alonso, a three-time All-Star with 17 caps for Cuba; and either Brad Evans, who spent much of the season with the U.S. national team, or Lamar Neagle, whose five goals this season have carried him to third on the club’s career goals list.

However, there is less dependable depth here, the unit is still incorporating newcomers Pappa and Pineda, and a series of minor injuries has so far kept Alonso short of his top form.

GRADE: B

DEFENDERS

Chad Marshall has been everything the club hoped for when it decided to make changes in the middle. But he has been surrounded by inconsistency.

Left back has revolved between Leo Gonzalez and Dylan Remick because of injuries. Right back has fluctuated between DeAndre Yedlin, Brad Evans and others mostly because of international duty. Djimi Traore has had his wobbles even when healthy — and he isn’t expected to be healthy again for another month.

It also took longer than usual for veteran Zach Scott to earn his playing time. And newcomer Jalil Anibaba has had moments of adventure inside and out.

GRADE: C

GOALKEEPING

Frei has been a bit of a roller coaster compared with the relative consistency of Kasey Keller and Michael Gspurning, who manned the position for the club’s first five seasons.

A couple of the goals Frei has allowed might linger in the mind longer than any he has prevented. But as Schmid has said: Frei is the goalkeeper for the No. 1 team in MLS, and that outweighs any complaints.

Marcus Hahnemann and Josh Ford project as above-average reserves — but we might have to wait for the U.S. Open Cup to really know, as Frei has played every minute of the regular season.

GRADE: B+

COACHING

What Schmid says about Frei as a goalkeeper also applies to himself. He is the coach of the No. 1 team in MLS, and that should outweigh any complaints. And what, really, is there to complain about?

If last season’s late collapse cast any doubts, this season’s rally from a 2-2-1 start — anyone remember that this team started 2-2-1? — should remove them.

The Sounders also have outscored opponents 10-2 over the final 15 minutes of games. Maybe that’s fitness. Or depth.

But maybe it’s that Schmid’s in-game adjustments have been exceptional.

GRADE: A

THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE ...

Sounders FC awards at the World Cup break:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Clint Dempsey

TOP DEFENDER

Chad Marshall

TOP GOAL

Obafemi Martins’ tightly angled chip vs. San Jose

BEST GAME

The 4-0 dismantling of second-place Real Salt Lake, which had been Major League Soccer’s final unbeaten team

WORST GAME

New England scoring five goals in a 32-minute span to hand Seattle its worst loss ever: 5-0

WILDEST RESULT

Sounders trail by two goals in the second half at rival Portland before rallying for 4-4 draw

TOUGHEST LOSS

Columbus scores in stoppage time for a 2-1 win that ended Seattle’s 51-game unbeaten run when scoring first

TREND

Sounders are 4-2 when allowing the first goal, inspiring their saying, “One-nothing is nothing”

ODDITY

Indoor game at Montreal postponed a day because of snow

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

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