By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
The Seattle Sounders have reached the World Cup break on pace to have the best Major League Soccer season ever.
They also could put together a pretty good blooper reel.
This season to date has included twice as many wins (10) as the combined total of losses (3) and draws (2).
However, it also has included:
? A ball bouncing over the head of goalkeeper Stefan Frei for a Dallas goal.
? A 40-yard Vancouver chip into the open net that Frei evacuated.
? And a Toronto goal set up by a Marco Pappa backpass into open space that was eventually filled by Jermaine Defoe.
Through this first part of their sixth season, the Sounders have been Sandra Bullock in “Gravity,” dealing with one calamity after another before finally willing themselves to a better place. Their path up the mountain has taken them over boulders and through thickets, but ah, what a lovely view they now enjoy.
“We like it up there,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We want to continue to stay there.”
That comment came after Seattle’s latest harrowing adventure: a 3-2 win at Chicago on Saturday that serves as a fair microcosm for the season so far.
In the first half, the Sounders were ahead by two goals and playing with a one-man advantage. By match end, it was a 10-against-10 struggle that Seattle survived only after a couple of acrobatic saves by Frei.
“We went into this game saying we wanted to have 32 points after 15 games,” Schmid said. “And that means we’ve had a really, really good run.”
It is, in fact, a historically good run. The Sounders’ average of 2.1 points per game puts them on pace for 72 through the 34-game regular season. That would top the existing league record of 68 points, accumulated by the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1998.
Other numbers add up positively, as well.
The Sounders lead MLS in goals (32), assists (30), and shots on goal (87). They also lead the league in fouls suffered, an indication that opponents have decided the best way of dealing with Seattle’s offensive talent is to knock it down.
Even at that, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are tied for third in the league with eight goals each. That puts both on pace to top Eddie Johnson’s single-season club record of 14. Martins also is third in MLS with a career-high six assists.
Newcomer Kenny Cooper already has a career-high four assists. And those 10 wins already are a career high for Frei.
Here’s a report card, grading the Sounders’ performance to date as the league pauses for the FIFA World Cup, which begins today in Brazil.
A Those 16 combined goals make Dempsey and Martins the most productive tandem in MLS. Each would have to be considered for MVP of the league. The quality of veterans such as Cooper and Chad Barrett provides comforting depth.
B The pedigree here is amazing. The Sounders could start Pappa, a two-time all-star with 30 caps with Guatemala, alongside Gonzalo Pineda, a Liga MX veteran with 44 caps for Mexico, alongside Osvaldo Alonso, a three-time all-star with 17 caps for Cuba; alongside either Brad Evans, who spent much of the season with the U.S. national team, or Lamar Neagle, whose five goals this season have carried him to third on the club’s career goals list. However, there is less dependable depth here, the unit is still incorporating newcomers Pappa and Pineda, and a series of minor injuries has so far kept Alonso short of his top form.
C Chad Marshall has been everything the club hoped when it decided to make changes in the middle. But he has been surrounded by inconsistency. Left back has revolved between Leo Gonzalez and Dylan Remick due to injuries. Right back has revolved between DeAndre Yedlin and Brad Evans and others mostly due to international duty. Djimi Traore has had his wobbles even when healthy – and he isn’t expected to be healthy again for another month. It also took longer than usual for veteran Zach Scott to earn his playing time. And newcomer Jalil Anibaba has had moments of adventure inside and out.
B+ Frei has been a bit of a rollercoaster compared to the relative consistency of Kasey Keller and Michael Gspurning, who manned the position for the club’s first five seasons. A couple of the goals he has allowed may linger in the mind longer than any he has prevented. But as Schmid has said: Frei is the goalkeeper for the No. 1 team in MLS, and that outweighs any complaints. Marcus Hahnemann and Josh Ford project as above-average reserves — but we may have to wait for U.S. Open Cup to really know, as Frei has played every minute of the regular season.
A What Schmid says about Frei as a goalkeeper also applies to himself. He is the coach of the No. 1 team in MLS, and that should outweigh any complaints. And what, really, is there to complain about? If last season’s late collapse cast any doubts, this season’s rally from a 2-2-1 start – anyone remember that this team started 2-2-1? – should remove them. The Sounders also have outscored opponents 10-2 over the final 15 minutes of games. Maybe that’s fitness. Or depth. But maybe it’s that Schmid’s in-game adjustments have been exceptional.