By John Boyle Herald Writer
TUKWILA — There are two ways to look at the Seattle Sounders’ recent play.
The pessimist could point out that, despite a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids last weekend, Seattle has gone from one of the league’s top teams early in the season to one that, before last weekend’s win, had not won in league play since early May.
The glass-half-full types, however, would remind you that the Sounders not only snapped a nine-game winless streak last weekend, but when you include the team’s U.S. Open Cup run, Seattle is 3-0-2 in all competitions since its last loss, perhaps indicating that the team is about to go on another dominant run.
The truth likely lies somewhere in between, and we won’t know for sure what Seattle’s two-month swoon, nor its two wins the past week, really meant until the season plays out. But for now, anyway, the Sounders players and coaches head into today’s game at New York confident the bad times are in the rearview mirror — that they are returning to the form that got them off to such a good start.
“We’re a proud team, we know we’re better than we were during that run of games, and we’re getting back to the level of play we had at the beginning of the season,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.
Seattle’s improved play has been the result of many factors. For starters, the team is getting healthier, particularly on defense, and with that there have been fewer of the defensive lapses that played heavily into losses like those in Montreal and Portland last month.
Perhaps more important in the long run, however, is that the team seems to be finding its rhythm offensively. As Schmid has said several times, the goal was to get the team’s attitude and approach right first, then quality soccer would follow. In the past few games, that has started to happen.
“We are in good form, everybody has been much better,” midfielder Mauro Rosales said. “The last few games, we’ve played good soccer, and more than that, it was the attitude we had in games, the concentration, the hard work we have put in.”
When the Sounders opened their season, the hope was that a talented foursome of Fredy Montero, Eddie Johnson, Alvaro Fernandez and Rosales would give Seattle one of the league’s most lethal offensive attacks. And while each has had moments, the games in which all or even three of those players have shined together have been few and far between. That has started to change recently, and as a result, so too have the results for Seattle.
Rosales and Johnson already have established themselves as a productive duo, with Rosales providing service and Johnson the finishing touch. But more importantly for the team’s long-term prospects, Johnson combined well with Montero to form a dangerous duo in Wednesday’s Open Cup win while other midfielders got in on the action as well.
“The last couple of games, me and Fredy are starting to gel,” said Johnson, who leads the team with eight goals in MLS play, and added a goal in Wednesday’s Open Cup semifinal as well. “We’re starting to play some good football, we’re starting to find each other a lot more and combine with each other.”
If the duo of Johnson and Montero can continue to improve, and Seattle also can get help in the attack not just from Rosales and Fernandez, but also from the likes of Brad Evans, who scored off a Montero assist Wednesday, and Osvaldo Alonso, who set up one goal and scoring another on a penalty kick. If Alonso continues to improve as an offensive player, Seattle should be very dangerous moving forward.
“The understanding is growing together,” Schmid said. “Eddie’s first goal (Wednesday) was a very good example of the team being aware of his pace and timing, and the ball pushed through by Ozzie is important. As the team gets healthy too, they recognize there is competition, and when there’s competition everybody sort of steps up their game a little bit.
“(Fernandez) is getting a better understanding of what I’m looking for and what I need. It was great to see him get on the board and get a goal. We need him to continue to be goal dangerous. He had nine goals for us last year, and certainly getting goals from him is important. When you start getting goals from your midfielders — Evans got a goal (Wednesday), Flaco got a goal Saturday — getting goals on set pieces, all of that makes your team more dangerous.”
The Sounders won’t know for a while if they are completely out of what was nearly a two-month funk, but with another win today, Seattle could go a long ways towards making that nine-game winless streak a distant memory.
“We’ve gone through a tough run of games,” Johnson said. “And now we’re starting to turn things around.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.