When the Sounders step inside the Home Depot Center on Sunday, they’ll be playing for their playoff lives. The bottom line is that if they do not come up with a victory, they will not advance. They’ll come back to Seattle, and their season will be over.
That’s the face value of the match, at least.
For the second consecutive season the Sounders have snuck into the playoffs. And after three playoff games, the Sounders have failed to put a single ball in the back of the net. They have played 300 minutes of goal less, playoff, soccer.
Something has to give on Sunday. Because in my opinion the Sounders are playing for a little more than just surviving and advancing. Elimination by the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday means that the Sounders would have had the exact same year they had the year before.
Sure, they won the US Open Cup Championship again. It’s a feat. But it’s only a monetary feeling of accomplishment. During the preliminary rounds teams are sending their reserves, and playing for depth. Only when a team reaches the Semi-Finals do MLS sides actually put forth effort. The real tournament to win is the MLS Cup playoffs, and if the Sounders can’t even get out of the preliminary match-up again it would leave a feeling of emptiness. Two straight years of elimination in the Conference semi-finals.
Sure, they earned a berth in the CONCACAF Champions league. They won only two of their eight matches against powerhouse clubs from Central America. They were straight up dominated. So can you say that, other than just being there, the Sounders earned much?
Don’t get me wrong. Last year the Sounders had an amazing year. It was an unprecedented year not only in Major League Soccer, but the entire landscape of American sports. For a first year franchise, it was something to behold.
But the Sounders have so much more potential. And they have to potential to evolve past what the typical American sports franchise can do. With the MLS expanding, with the face of American soccer slowly improving, are the Seattle Sounders going to continue to evolve with it? Sure the team is trendy now, but the only sure fire way to make sure they stay trendy is to create a perennial winner.
For the beauty of soccer, compared to American sports, is that the Sounders don’t just have one league and one league competition to dominate, but they can take it abroad, and test their mettle against the best in the World.
Just recently, South America’s CONMEBOL has announced that they are interested in bringing American sides to join Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent to the CONCACAF Champions league. They’ve already had Mexican sides playing in the competition for a while now.
Then, there is also the Super Liga competition, in which the MLS’s best go ahead Mexico’s best in a small eight team tournament.
Why does any of this matter for Seattle’s crucial away leg match against the star studded Galaxy?
The Sounders cannot take the next step towards being an American dynasty until they do it domestically.
Call me selfish, call me ambitious. But I’ve seen first hand the following this team has. I know the resources this team has. I know the spring board this team has. They’ve come into Major League Soccer when it was vulnerable. They’ve made themselves not only a force on the pitch, but financially. They have a legitimate advantage. And they’ve used to it to formulate the team they have on the pitch.
Now is the time to take advantage. To have the MLS Cup trophy in Seattle holds much more significance than a pair of US Open Cups. It would prop them into next year’s Champions League with confidence, and notoriety. At some point, being the only MLS team to constantly sell out your building gets old. Portland and Vancouver will help flip the image of MLS when it comes to fan support. Seattle will no longer be alone in that department.
The pitch is where Seattle will now set themselves apart. Steps forward have to be made. There actually ARE other places to go than up. And down is a scary place for this team to go with the direction that the league as a whole is making. Seattle cannot become that team, that makes the playoffs every year, only to disappoint and not bear the fruit of their labors. A championship is only going to get harder as the league grows.
So, it starts Sunday. The Seattle Sounders need to make the Western Conference Finals.