The Seattle Sounders had their first big test of 2021 facing the Los Angeles Galaxy Sunday at home at Lumen Field and the match couldn’t have gone any better than it did. The club debuted their new “Jimi Hendrix Kits” for the first time and christened them with a well-earned 3-0 victory over their long time Western Conference foes. Raul Ruidiaz scored up his second brace (two goals) for a second straight home match this season and team captain Nicolas Lodeiro played his first minutes of the season as a second half substitute having missed the first two matches with a left quad strain. While it seemed like business as usual, the win last night signaled much more for the club in both the short and long term.
Now the Sounders are only three matches in to the 2021 regular season with 31 season matches still to be played between now and early November. Already, you’re probably wondering “how could the club’s third match of this season have so much implications? Sundays match against the Galaxy proved to be the Sounders first real test after everything they have gone through the last 5 months. To understand what they have gone through, we have to go back to the offseason after losing MLS Cup Final 2020.
Overview of the Offseason
Going into the offseason the Sounders parted ways with Gustav Svensson, Joevin Jones, and Kelvin Leerdam players who contributed greatly to the club’s success over the last few seasons. They also extended the contacts of Lodeiro, Ruidiaz and signed Paulo to permanent contract. All three claim the allotted DP spots available. On top of that, the league and the players association agreed on a new CBA in February. In the CBA, the two sides agreed to not increase the salary budget for the next two seasons until funds generated from the new media agreement became available starting in 2023.
Having hit their salary cap, the Sounders didn’t have much wiggle room financially to make any major signing using either a Designated Player Spot or Targeted Allocation Money during the Winter Transfer Window or a transfer window of any kind. Jordan Morris’s ACL tear while out on loan with Swansea didn’t help their cause either. On top of that their Technical Director and Everett Native Chris Henderson left for Inter Miami the month earlier after working with the Sounders for 13 years.
Going into the preseason, Brian Schmetzer and his coaching staff knew in order for the team to stay competitive given the limited money to work with, including the absence of experienced wide midfielders, that they would have to change things tactically. The moved from the 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-5-2 formation. They also decided to give more playing time to younger players such as Josh Atencio , Ethan Dobbelaere, and Danny Leyva.
The Bigger Picture
With a new formation in place and return of a club icon Fredy Montero on a free transfer, many predicted the challenges the Sounders faced in the offseason would prove to difficult to overcome to compete for another MLS Cup Championship. You could also say that the strain appearing in back to back MLS Cup Finals having their shortest offseason of any club would be visible at the start of the season and that the team isn’t strong enough to compete this season.
Only three matches into the 2021 regular season, the Sounders have been anything but of uneventful. They have defied belief and expectations that were made of them going into 2021. They massacred a very strong and powerful Minnesota United in their opening match 4-0 on April 16 at Lumen Field , held LAFC the following weekend to a 1-1 draw in the Banc of California Stadium both games without Nicolas Lodeiro, then last night as described by FS1 analysts’ in the post match show had “A statement win” over the Galaxy. In what maybe a season full of unknowns across MLS for 2021, the club that as of now has the best chance at pursuing and fulfilling their destiny is the Seattle Sounders.
LAFC still hasn’t regained their confidence since their historic record-setting 2019 regular season. The reigning MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew SC have been held scoreless in their first two MLS matches, Atlanta United is still in fallout from Frank DeBoer, and Portland Timbers, the usual dark horses of the Western Conference in recent seasons aren’t firing on all cylinders yet. Even Toronto FC parted ways with Greg Vanney despite keeping most of the roster that went to MLS Cup Final 2019 intact. Until last night the only other club that was looked impressive right out of the gate was the Galaxy.
For a second time, the Sounders enter a third season after appearing in back to back MLS Cup Finals. This time 2021 is different than 2018. The team started the season winning and decisively too, even while missing key players out with short term and long term injuries. This instead feels like how the Sounders started the 2019 season winning 5 of their first 6 matches.
Players are stepping up, the team is moving forward confidently while Morris recovers from his second ACL injury. Every player whether they start or come in as a substitute plays the game with confidence and belief in the themselves and their teammates around them. We’re seeing a club that faced multiple obstacles this past offseason overcoming them three matches in to the season and not stopping. The ability to overcome the setbacks added with the dominating margin of victories the Sounders have obtained this early in the season all point to one thing.
The possibility of becoming the MLS Cup Champion for 2021. Believe it.