By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Clint Dempsey’s first goal as a Sounder wasn’t enough. Nor was a gift of an officiating blunder that cost the L.A. Galaxy a first-half goal.
For the seventh time in as many games, the Seattle Sounders, not too long ago the hottest team in Major League Soccer, failed to win.
But hey, at least the Sounders, a team for whom consistency has been only a rumor this season, didn’t lose this time, settling for a 1-1 tie in their regular-season finale in front of 66,216 at CenturyLink Field. The result ends a franchise-worst four-game losing streak, but extends a winless streak that dates back to Sept. 13.
“Overall the flow of the game and our play I thought was a big improvement over the way we had been playing,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. “It’s certainly a big step forward.”
Now the Sounders have to rediscover their winning ways Wednesday or see the season end with an early playoff exit. As the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, Seattle will host No. 5 Colorado Wednesday night in a play-in game, with the winner advancing to a two-game, aggregate-goal series against top-seeded Portland.
Logic says that the Sounders are in a bad place heading into the playoffs; a team that went into a late-season tailspin and has yet to fully turn things around, even if Sunday’s game was a much better performance. But if this Sounders season, as well as the league’s playoff history, have taught us anything, it’s that logic doesn’t always apply.
Really, we have no idea what the Sounders are going to do in the playoffs. They could get blown out by Colorado, a team that beat — no wait, drubbed, that’s a better description — them 5-1 earlier this month, or they could get hot and win their first MLS Cup. Neither extreme, nor anything in between, would be surprising at this point. This season has seen the Sounders get off to a sluggish start, then responded with a hot streak in May, then go through a bit of a midseason swoon, then won eight of nine late in the summer before having the wheels fall off down the stretch.
“We lost four games in a row, today it was important to play well first, and don’t lose,” said defender Djimi Traore. “… I think we did very well, unfortunately we draw, but it’s like that. Now I think the confidence is back.”
And if anything is harder to predict than this Sounders season, it’s the MLS playoffs. Last year the Galaxy were a No. 4 seed, got hot in the playoffs, and won a title over fifth-seeded Houston. In 2010, a pair of three seeds met for the title with Colorado winning it, and the year before that, fourth-seeded Real Salt Lake, beat the top-seeded Galaxy. So to recap, since Seattle joined the league, two four seeds and a three seed have won titles, and only one top seed, L.A. in 2011, has taken home the MLS Cup.
That’s why as disappointing as it might be to see Dempsey’s first goal as a Sounder, a skillful tap-in with the outside of his foot in the 30th minute, go to waste, it might not end up making a difference in the postseason. And it’s why even though the Sounders got a huge break when a header by Omar Gonzalez that was cleared by Osvaldo Alonso was incorrectly not ruled a goal, not taking advantage of their good fortune may not matter in the end for the Sounders.
“It doesn’t matter,” said midfielder Adam Moffat, who was on that Houston team that went to the finals as a five seed last year. “You look at teams like Salt Lake when they won a championship, they sneaked in there on the last day. Colorado when they won, they weren’t in the greatest position either a few years ago. It really doesn’t matter. It’s once you get in there, can you produce your best? It’s about getting that form back that we had maybe a couple months ago, and if we can do that in the playoffs, we can definitely win it.”
Or, if you’re the even more optimistic type, you can go with Brad Evans’ outlook of, “We’re due for a win, that’s the most important thing, we’re due for a win.”
Due for a win, or ending the season in a funk? Every possibility is on the table for the incredibly inconsistent Sounders starting Wednesday, and while they would have loved to get the victory Sunday that would have kept them out of the play-in game, they also know nothing is lost yet.
“It’s definitely doable,” Moffat said. “I wouldn’t say you want to do it. You don’t think, ‘Oh, let’s try to finish fourth or fifth.’ But we’re in the position we’re in, and I don’t think it’s too bad… We know we can still do it.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.