One Major League Soccer team started the 2015 season 0-3. That was the Chicago Fire, and the bleeding never stopped. The Fire finished 8-20-6, last in the league and the only club to average less than a point per game.
Again this season, only one MLS team is off to an 0-3 start. This time, that team is the Seattle Sounders.
All of the other 19 teams in the Supporters’ Shield standings can look down at Seattle — including the 0-1-2 Fire.
And yet the Sounders themselves clearly view the current standings as only a snapshot — the representation of one moment in time that will be largely forgotten in October when playoff positioning actually matters.
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“It’s a long season,” defender Tyrone Mears said. “We had a tricky patch last season. We came through that.”
“Tricky patch” is classic British understatement. Fans might recall — some might, in fact, still wake up screaming in the night — that midseason stretch when the Sounders lost eight of nine games, including a five-game losing streak.
That slump was duly noted and widely fretted over. But it also came against a larger body of work. Until that nosedive, the Sounders seemed in position to defend their 2014 Supporters’ Shield. So yes, the team looked awful during the stretch — at one point they were shut out over four straight games — but the bad was mitigated by the so-much-better body of work that had come earlier in the season.
This season, there is no such mitigation. Sounders fans have seen only three games and three losses. In an MLS season stretching from early March to late October, teams have their ebbs and flows. But for now, Seattle has displayed only a month-long ebb.
Still, the Sounders themselves see swan potential beyond the ugly-duckling scores.
“The games, we make the present for the other teams,” forward Nelson Valdez said, summing things up nicely in his second language. “It’s our mistake that we make. It’s not because they play like Barcelona on the ground. I think we have the good team.”
The other key characteristic of the 2015 slump was that it was so easily explainable. It happened with goals-leaders Martins and Clint Dempsey away due to injury, international duty and disciplinary suspension. All of those were temporary issues, and once they passed, the first-team Sounders still projected as strong any anyone in MLS.
It isn’t as easy to make that case this season. There is Dempsey. There is young and athletic Jordan Morris. There are Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz, better ingrained after a training camp with their new team.
But still, general manager Garth Lagerwey regularly noted that these Sounders would likely be better at midseason than at the start, and hopefully better at the end than in the middle. And this week Mears reminded us of why that could be the case, even on such a seasoned club.
“A lot of teams would shrivel the first few games without Obafemi Martins,” he said. “But I think in terms of Jordan coming in, a different (4-3-3) formation, younger players also getting to play now —it’s going to take time. … We’re going to get better. It’s a long, long season.”
It is roughly an eight-month regular season. By the time play concludes this weekend, one of those months will be over. For some teams, the first month will prove predictive, as it did with the 2015 Fire. For some it will prove nothing, as with the MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers, whose first win of 2015 came in their fifth game.
“I believe in our team, and I believe in the way we’re playing,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said Wednesday. “… I think we’ve had a little bit of bad fortune. I don’t feel that bad fortune will continue.”
MLS power rankings
1. Sporting Kansas City (3-0-0): Only team in the league with maximum available points.
2. FC Dallas (3-1-0): Followed 5-0 loss to Houston with combined 5-0 margin over Montreal and D.C.
3. Montreal Impact (2-1-0): Asked about lmpact, Sounders keeper Stefan Frei answered “(Ignacio) Piatti.”
4. Los Angeles Galaxy (2-1-0): Plus-four goal differential is the best in the league.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps (2-2-0): Pedro Morales early Golden Boot leader with four goals in four games.
6. San Jose Earthquakes (2-1-0): Tied with Sounders for fewest shots on target.
7. Portland Timbers (1-1-1): Timbers have outshot opponents 62-34, the highest margin in MLS.
8. Toronto FC (1-1-1): Saturday visit to Colorado puts them halfway through eight away games to open season.
9. Philadelphia Union (2-1-0): Andre Blake only goalkeeper nominated for MLS player of the month.
10. Seattle Sounders (0-3-0): Ranking represents midpoint between what they have been and what they might yet be.
11. Columbus Crew (0-2-1): Much like the Sounders, disappointing Crew deserves benefit of the doubt a while longer.
12. Real Salt Lake (1-0-2): Joao Plata has three goals and is MLS player of the month contender.
13. Orlando City SC (1-0-2): Kaka ready for belated season debut Sunday vs. Timbers.
14. New York Red Bulls (1-2-0): Injuries and international calls slowing defending Supporters’ Shield champs.
15. New York City FC (1-1-2): Has taken more shots than anyone else in the league.
16. New England Revolution (0-1-3): Like Sounders, Revs are getting chances but little payoff.
17. Houston Dynamo (1-2-1): Leads MLS with 11 goals, four more than anyone else.
18. Colorado Rapids (1-1-1): Kevin Doyle out two to four weeks after leg injury with Ireland national team.
19. Chicago Fire (0-1-2): Least surprising of five winless MLS teams.
20. D.C. United (0-2-2): Minus-six goal differential is worst in the league.