TUKWILA — After a day off to recover both physically and emotionally from a brutal beating, Seattle Sounders players were back at practice Tuesday knowing they have just two options in front of them.
Make history, or call it a season.
Following Sunday’s 3-0 loss in Los Angeles in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals, Seattle has to beat the Galaxy by four goals to advance to the MLS Cup, or win by three and take its chances in extra time and a possible shootout. Only once in league history has a team come back from a deficit this large in a two-game, aggregate-goal series.
“Obviously we dug a big hole for ourselves,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, whose team hosts the Galaxy on Sunday night at CenturyLink Field. “That’s reality. Reality is we’re in a hole and we’ve got to work really, really hard to get out of it. Sunday has the opportunity to be a fantastic evening for the club, for the league, for soccer, but it’s a deep hole and we’ve got to work to get out of it.”
Schmid is absolutely correct that it would be one fantastic night for the Sounders if they could somehow bounce back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit. As much as the odds are stacked against them, players are still clinging to belief that they can pull off in improbable comeback and advance to play for a championship.
“It’s a discouraging, tough one to swallow, but you have to move on, and if you don’t, then you shouldn’t be playing in this league or in any professional sport,” defender Jeff Parke said. “There are going to be times when things don’t go your way and you’re not at your best, but keep working, keep believing, and just realize that anything’s possible. So many stories have been written and so many good things have come from teams that haven’t quit when they should of or had their backs against the wall.
“(We have to) fix the mistakes, but also come together and realize that we could do something special here. They could be talking about us for a while if we can come back and pull this off. We all believe in each other and believe we can get it done.”
Before Seattle began preparing for Sunday’s game, Schmid gave his players “an earful” according to Parke, but the coach also talked to them about resilience. Schmid mentioned that Parke, once the last player taken in his draft class, has gone on to enjoy a long and accomplished MLS career; that Brad Evans, while playing at a small college like UC Irvine, represented his country at the Under-20 World Championships; and that Steve Zakuani, a year and a half removed from a career-threatening injury, is playing meaningful minutes in huge playoff games.
“They’ve overcome things,” Schmid said. “They can all point to things in the past.”
But Schmid also would be the first to admit that overcoming adversity in the past won’t help a lick if his team isn’t significantly better this weekend than it was last weekend when defensive breakdowns and the inability to create scoring chances led to a blowout loss.
And while the Sounders are fighting an uphill battle, there are also moments in the team’s history that suggest Sunday is not entirely a lost cause. For starters, the Sounders beat the Galaxy in Seattle 4-0 earlier this season, though it is a lot different to beat a team by that margin in the regular season than in a playoff game where the Galaxy knows a 2-0 loss would be good enough to advance.
Seattle also has been a good team coming off of a loss, having not lost back-to-back games since starting the 2011 season with consecutive losses. And even though Seattle lost to Real Salt Lake in the playoffs last season, it did nearly come back from a 3-0 deficit in that series. Like this year, the Sounders laid an egg on the road, falling behind 3-0, then rallying by scoring twice and creating a several chances at a tying goal during a frantic finish that saw its comeback effort fall just short.
“I think we’ve always responded well to adversity on this team,” forward Eddie Johnson said. “We know it’s going to be tough. It’s a kick in the butt for us to wake up. We know what’s at stake. This city wants championships; we want championships. This is what we work hard for all season, so we’ve got to turn things around. We know it’s not going to be easy, but we’re hungry and we’re looking forward to the game.
Sounders FC announced Tuesday that more than 40,000 tickets have been sold so far for Sunday’s game and that tarps will be taken off the upper deck on the east side of the stadium. Capacity will be increased if demand calls for it.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.