Sounders FC

One day in June turned Sounders’ season, and maybe their future

Head coach Sigi Schmid has become a fixture in Seattle, taking the Sounders to seven consecutive postseasons, and has won every trophy the MLS has to offer over his three-team coaching stint in the league. But after another early exit for the Sounders, has his time in Seattle finally come to a close?
Head coach Sigi Schmid has become a fixture in Seattle, taking the Sounders to seven consecutive postseasons, and has won every trophy the MLS has to offer over his three-team coaching stint in the league. But after another early exit for the Sounders, has his time in Seattle finally come to a close? AP

The Seattle Sounders’ seventh MLS season turned for the worse on June 16.

Among the highs and lows that are inevitable in the long run from March to November, sometimes it is only after the season when you can identify which rise or fall was the significant one that actually marked a turning point.

But that wasn’t the case in 2015.

When the Sounders awoke on the morning of June 16, their 9-4-2 record was the best in MLS and they were looking forward to starting the defense of their U.S. Open Cup with a home match against archrival Portland.

By the time they went to bed that night, the Sounders were out of the Open Cup, Obafemi Martins was injured and Clint Dempsey had lost his temper spectacularly enough that the only question was how long a suspension he would receive.

Snap. The season had turned, and things would never quite be the same — not even during a late 11-game unbeaten run that ended Sunday night at FC Dallas, along with the Sounders’ season.

After that Open Cup catastrophe, the injured Martins missed nine consecutive games, while Dempsey missed 11 of the next 12 because of a combination of a three-game suspension, international duty and injury. Missing their two biggest stars, Seattle went into a 1-8 free fall, including six shutouts.

They even slipped below the playoff red line, before climbing back to fourth place. That was good enough to extend the club’s playoff run to an MLS-high seven consecutive seasons. But the low seeding forced them into a draining play-in game and then a date with young, speedy Dallas, which came in fresh after amassing as many points as anyone in the league.

Even at that, the Sounders came about as close as you can to advancing. But they didn’t. And in a bottom-line business, the most relevant fact is likely to be that these high-priced, star-packed, veteran Sounders made it only to the final eight before being eliminated by a much younger team with a much smaller payroll.

That is a combination of facts likely to cause changes. The question is how close to the core they will cut.

Obviously, the biggest move would be the dismissal of coach Sigi Schmid — and wouldn’t it say a lot about the nature of pro sports if Schmid were fired in the same year he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

General manager Garth Lagerwey didn’t rule it out. Yet it is a move so significant that Lagerwey also seemed unsure he was even empowered to make it.

The club probably has to accept that there is no more credentialed replacement waiting in the wings. Schmid has won NCAA titles, MLS Cups with two teams, Supporters’ Shields with three teams, and of course has led Seattle to all those playoff appearances.

But the Sounders are no longer judged by making the playoffs, it’s now about what they do once they get there. If ownership decides that for all of Schmid’s strengths, it’s simply time for a new face, a new voice, well, those are things even this Hall of Famer can’t provide.

Any other cuts at the core would likely mean the departure of one or more designated players. This seems less likely. Sunday night notwithstanding, the Sounders were a remarkably successful team with Dempsey and Martins in the lineup. It’s probably worth giving them one more try — one last try — this time with Nelson Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz around from the start, and perhaps Roman Torres eventually adding to the mix.

At the edges, the club was clearly disappointed by the lack of production from reserve forwards Lamar Neagle and Chad Barrett when Dempsey and Martins were out — and only Barrett eventually worked his way back into regular playing time.

Neagle did not, instead joining apparently out-of-favor players such as Dylan Remick and Micheal Azira.

Any kind of youth movement could signal the end for popular Sounders such as Leo Gonzalez and Gonzalo Pineda — although it would be no surprise if the ageless Zach Scott returns for the Sounders’ eighth swing at an MLS Cup.

SOUNDERS STILL SEARCH FOR MLS CUP

A look at the Sounders’ year-by-year records.

Year

Record

Conference/Overall

MLS Playoffs

2015

15-13-6

Fourth/sixth

Lost in conference semis

2014

20-10-4

First/first

Lost in conference finals

2013

15-12-7

Fourth/sixth

Lost in conference semis

2012

15-8-11

Third/seventh

Lost in conference finals

2011

18-7-9

Second/second

Lost in conference semis

2010

14-10-6

Fourth/sixth

Lost in conference semis

2009

12-7-11

Third/fourth

Lost in conference semis

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