TUKWILA, Wash. â€“ For a team that won their first-ever MLS Cup title less than a year ago, the Seattle Sounders arenâ€™t exactly a trendy pick to replicate the feat.
Ahead of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup playoffs, the leagueâ€™s defending champion find themselves as something of a postseason afterthought as they continue to jostle for seeding in a log-jammed Western Conference.
But these Sounders also might just be better suited to make a deep playoff run this year than they were a season ago. While last seasonâ€™s improbable championship was defined by gutsy postseason performances from grizzled veterans â€“ many of whom played through injuries — midfielder Cristian Roldan says the overall depth featured on this yearâ€™s roster is arguably superior.
â€œThis year, we have Victor [Rodriguez], we have Lamar [Neagle], we have Harry [Shipp], those guys are all quality and can be put into the lineup at any point,â€� Roldan told reporters after a training session at Starfire Sports Complex this week. â€œGoing into the playoffs, you need those guys. â€¦Itâ€™s a bit different [than last year]for sure because I think we have [stronger]players throughout our roster.â€�
On top of that, the Sounders also stand to regain the services of some valuable reinforcements in the coming weeks. Second-year forward Jordan Morris (hamstring) and team captain Osvaldo Alonso (quad) are both on the mend from their respective injuries, with an eye on a return ahead of the postseason.
Assuming both come back at full-strength, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer should have as healthy a crop of players to choose from as heâ€™s had all season.
â€œWeâ€™re missing two really, really big guys on our team [right now],â€� said Roldan. â€œOzzie is the heart of our team and Jordan, with his speed and commitment and [one of the]young guys we have. Those two guys make our team so much better.â€�
The biggest key to making their repeat dreams a reality, Schmetzer said, is finding consistency over a two-leg series on the heels of a season that has seen his team flaunt some Jekyll and Hyde tendencies â€“ looking like world-beaters in some games and struggling mightily to score goals in others.
â€œI think the only consistency weâ€™ve had this year is weâ€™ve been a hard team to beat,â€� Schmetzer said this week. â€œMaybe thereâ€™s a couple of games in there where we had international [absences]where we didnâ€™t have good results, but over the course of the season through now, I think weâ€™ve been hard to beat. So, in a two-game series that comes into play a little bit.â€�
Of course, the Sounders still have to lock up a postseason berth first for any of this to become relevant, with two home matches on the docket against a struggling FC Dallas side (Sunday | 7:30 pm ET | FS1, MLS LIVE in Canada) and the Colorado Rapids to close out their regular season.
If that comes to fruition, itâ€™s still doubtful that many national pundits will pick them to hoist a second-consecutive championship trophy. But for a battle-tested side that should be nearing full-strength at the right time, the Sounders also have plenty of reasons to feel like they have as good a chance as anybody.
â€œThe way this league is built, you can have the best regular season but in the playoffs itâ€™s anybodyâ€™s game,â€� Schmetzer said. â€œTo be fair, Toronto is the odds-on favorite. But in a one-game final, anything can happen.â€�