The 2-1 come from behind victory in the championship rematch against Columbus Crew SC in this last weekend in Columbus proved similarities to the Sounders 2018 season the year after failing to defend MLS Cup the first time. In the 2018, the Sounders got revenge against Toronto FC and were without Jordan Morris for the entire year after suffering a season ending ACL injury. Columbus, the reigning MLS Cup Champions have been playing anything like Champions much like how Toronto sputtered away their way through their regular season.
What’s different from 2018 is this year the Sounders are in first place of the Western Conference with a record of 12wins 6 draws and 3 losses. All of this accomplished while having a majority of starters injured throughout the season and two assistant coaches who were irreplaceable leaving for new coaching opportunities. In a year which was predicted to be a rebuild year, the Sounders have defied all expectations amidst incredible odds. The only award worthy of the club’s resilience endurance they’ve displayed all season is MLS Cup. There is no consolation.
To make it back to a third final in three straight years is monumental task that is a rare accomplishment even fewer juggernauts in sports have achieved. It’s even harder when the road ahead isn’t that clear. That’s where the Sounders are heading. It’s the last major similarity of 2018.
The narrative for the 2021 MLS Season was a season into the unknown. With the league and players union agreeing to a new CBA in February, the salary cap would not be raised until another two seasons. This meant many clubs including the Sounders had to cut players from their roster having hit their cap ceiling during the offseason and weren’t able to bring in new talent. Few teams like Columbus Crew and Minnesota United had the luxury of not releasing players but strengthen their rosters further. Nearly 75% through the regular season 2021 has been anything but ordinary and that’s where similarities end.
The usual key suspects who qualify for the playoffs in the Western Conference have yet to solidify their spots. LAFC and FC Dallas, clubs the Sounders have faced in the playoffs for their last two seasons are below the red line. Perhaps the biggest concern many haven’t taken in to account yet is the Portland Timbers. Without a doubt Portland may hold the distinction for being the dark horse of the Western Conference, known for sneaking into the second to last or final playoff spot.
Since Gio Savarese took over as Head Coach in 2018, the Timbers have qualified every year for the playoffs. No one predicted they would represent the Western Conference in the 2018 MLS Cup Final, but it happened. They are not a club to be disregarded as they have known to be elusive and difficult to eliminate in recent years. This season they are below the red line for the time being but haven’t begun to sneak their way into the playoffs after being declared left for dead by everyone else.
If it took a monumental effort for the Sounders to make back-to-back appearances in MLS Cup Final, then to make a third straight appearance would take a team effort off a 1000 to 10,000 times greater. Should the players in unison agree to go for MLS Cup Final, they need to make this decision now without regrets or second thoughts. The regular season is waning and now is the time the Sounders need to put their foot down on the accelerator pedal.