Finishing the 3 game home stand claiming 5 of 9 points possible certainly left the Sounders in a state of discontent after Sunday night’s draw to Austin FC heading into the international break. However, the discontent shouldn’t detract from what they accomplished overall in just the first 8 matches of this season. They currently remain unbeaten with a record of 5 wins 0 losses and 3 draws. The Rave Green currently stand atop of not only the Western Conference but the Supporters Shields standings as well. In the process they have conceded only 3 goals in 8 matches. None of the goals were conceded from the run of play, two were free kicks and one was a penalty kick. No other club in MLS this season has this strong of a defense.
All of this has been achieved while the Sounders had hit their salary cap in the off-season, undergone a formation change, started the season without some pretty crucial players such as Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro. Then Stefan Frei and Jordy Delem get injured during the San Jose match which certainly didn’t help matters. All of these players sustaining injuries that will keep them out for quite some time too. Delem and Morris both out with ACL tears, Frei recently picking up a blood clot due to complications in his recovery likely out for perhaps half the season or more. Through all of this, the Sounders have gotten off to their best start in MLS. Think about that.
Only 8 matches into 2021, the Sounders have been put to the test coming out as the better team with an insane amount of endurance and resilience. No other team in the league this season has demonstrated this same level of resiliency. The reigning MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew have been slow out of the gate while balancing a run in CONCACAF, LAFC’s momentum from their record setting 2019 season has all but faded, Atlanta is recovering from the fallout of Frank DeBoer, Toronto FC has regressed since Greg Vanney took the Head Coach gig with the LA Galaxy. No other team besides the Galaxy have matched up to the Sounders equals or betters and the Sounders dispatched the Galaxy quite comfortably 3-0 at Lumen Field to start the month of May.
Throughout the season every team will have to navigate without one or more players that are critical to the formation. If it seems unfair that the Sounders have to navigate through the season now without key players just wait until the playoffs. Every team is in the same boat. Take the 2016 MLS Cup playoffs for instance. Sure, the Sounders were without Clint Dempsey who was sidelined with an irregular heartbeat since August but so were the other teams who went to the playoffs who were missing their key players with injuries too. FC Dallas lost their midfield playmaker Mauro Diaz in the second to final regular season game tearing his Achilles Tendon and they were ill-equipped to handle the Sounders in the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
In the Western Conference Finals that same year the Sounders went up against the Colorado Rapids. Having provided a pair of saves in a shootout the previous round of the playoffs to eliminate the Los Angeles Galaxy, goalkeeper Tim Howard suffered an adductor during a World Cup Qualifying match making him unavailable for the Conference Final. That gave Rapids Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni no choice but to play goalkeeper Zac MacMath who hadn’t played a match since the start of September. Heck, even in MLS Cup Final 2019, Toronto had to navigate through the playoffs without their striker Jozy Altidore. Altidore did appear as a second half substitute his goal in the 93rd minute was nothing but consolation in a 3-1 defeat to the Sounders leaving pundits to wonder if he was healthy could the narrative been different.
The choice is yours. You can deal with the injuries now or deal with injuries right before the playoffs. I wouldn’t take the latter. If the Sounders are leading the west and the supporters shield with the squad availability not at 100%, what can they accomplish when the team is entirely available and injury free? This team could be frightening.
In a season which many experts predicted that 2021 would be a year of recovery and rebuilding, the Sounders have defied those predictions. It’s certainly reasonable to be frustrated that the last two home matches were draws and the absence of Nicolas Lodeiro’s playmaking contributions is starting to be felt. For now, it’s time we let the Sounders relish and enjoy this much-needed two weeks off. They’ve earned it.