Can Sounders Stop Slide and Make the Playoffs?

Oct 18, 2013

The Seattle Sounders play FC Dallas in Texas on Saturday. It’s yet another chance for the team to clinch a playoff berth. They’re running out of chances. 

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says a lot has been going wrong for the Sounders recently.  

Big Slide

After briefly having the best record in Major League Soccer and sitting atop the Western Conference earlier in the season, the Sounders haven't had a win in more than a month.

They've lost their last three matches in a row (one by a score of 5-1 and another 4-1) and had two draws before that. Art says it's hard for players and fans to take.

“It’s really been bizarre because they were on such a roll and the wheels have come off so fast," he said.

Reasons—Not Excuses

The team has been plagued with injuries this season.

Another reason for the slide is that key players keep getting called up to play qualifying matches for the U.S. Men's National Team. This year is a qualifying year for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. As a result, the team has had to play some big games without stars Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson or Brad Evans.

“The Sounders haven’t experienced this because the World Cup is only every four years and the last time there was a World Cup qualifying round was in the Sounders’ first year of 2009," Art said. "They didn’t have the talent then to have players good enough to be part of the U.S. World Cup team. Now they do.”

Assembled on the Fly

Art points out that the team wasn't able to gel during training camp. Instead they added key players during the season. Designated Player Obafemi Martins from Nigeria joined the team in April and U.S. Men's National Team captain Clint Dempsey was acquired in August.

“This has made for a jumbled lineup, inconsistency and a difficult time to integrate all of these different talents into a cohesive unit,” Art said.

Dempsey Leading to Discord?

The team's other Designated Player, Clint Dempsey, arrived in Seattle amid much fanfare. He was heralded as "one of the best American soccer players in the game." But he has yet to score a goal in his career with the Sounders. Granted, he's had a hamstring  injury and now a shoulder problem (he's questionable for Saturday), as well as the call-ups to the national team.

But Art thinks Dempsey's high salary might be an issue in the locker room.

“I think there is an ego issue going on here," he said. "In any sport when you have players making lots more money, the expectations are a lot greater. There are jealousies and resentments and few players will admit to it openly but it’s just human nature. I’m not saying that this team is riven with discord and jealousy but I think it’s a part of the problem."

"One goal from one guy you wouldn’t think would be a big deal," Art went on to say. "But because he’s making $5 million a year and many players on this team are making teachers’ salaries, I think there’s an expectation that he needs to deliver, and one goal would help. It might help the tension on the team abate because they’re not playing well either up front where he plays or even in the back line. The defense has been terrible.”

Designated Player Distraction

Art says the Designated Player system in Major League Soccer (MLS) presents a management problem.

“I think there’s a real issue in MLS, simply because you’re allowed to pay three players over the salary cap—at quite a high amount relative to the rest of the team. I think that breeds resentment. I think Sigi Schmid, the head coach, has got his hands full dealing with some of those little political games that go on inside a club.”

Playoffs? Then What?

Art expects the Sounders to win either Saturday's match against FC Dallas or the Sunday, Oct. 27 home game against the LA Galaxy. That would put them in the playoffs.

“But then what the team looks like after that is anybody’s guess.”

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.