BY Stanley Holmes 10:19AM 04/19/2011

Sounders still amid a season in flux

Four of next five on the road should define how their season will go

Defender James Riley fires on goal with Alvaro Fernandez close on his heels during practice last week. / Kyle Scholzen, Sportspress Northwest

When it comes to the Sounders, one can judge their current performance from the prism of a glass half full or a glass half empty.

Take your pick. A 1-2-3 record is hardly inspiring. But is it the end of the world?

Yes, coming back in stoppage time against the Philadelphia Union to tie the match keeps the Sounders in the hunt for a playoff spot. It injects much-needed confidence in the players, and it certainly is better than a loss.

But the question is whether the draw against the Union is the start of better things to come or a mask that hides inherent deficiencies within a somewhat sputtering squad? The answer is unclear partly because it’s still early in a long season, and partly because Sounders coach Sigi Schmid is still shuffling his lineup in an effort to find the right combination of starters.

Schmid has picked 16 different players as starters. He has played 22 altogether as he has coped with injuries as well as searching for the most productive combination of players. For the first time last week, Schmid selected the same starting 11 as the previous match.

We’ll soon know whether this is the season of great expectations fulfilled or whether this is a rebuilding year. The Sounders play four of their next five matches on the road, beginning against MLS Cup champs Colorado Rapids Friday at Dick’s Sporting Good Park.

One of the problems is that the Sounders organization set very high expectations at the beginning of the season. This team, after all, is supposed to win the MLS Cup, according to the ownership. That’s what 36,000 fans have been told to believe for several months. That’s why Fredy Montero was made a designated player and supporters were assured the squad was stronger than last year.

All of those high hopes have been muted by the uneven performance of the team. What’s more, Alvaro Fernandez’s subpar play raises continuing questions about why he received dp status, and the Blaise Nkufo drama just hours before First Kick with the Galaxy, is not a textbook public-relations example of how to start a successful season.  Nkufo’s unexpected exit seemed to set a less than stellar tone at the start.

Let’s be clear: most of the game against the Union was a dull affair and hardly inspiring. Sure, awful weather played its part. But Seattle’s offense was lackluster for most of the first half. The second half improved with Montero coming off the bench. But it still seemed Seattle was doomed to lose. Philadelphia controlled large portions of the match.

“We didn’t play well and we’re not going to say we did,” offered Steve Zakunai, in comments following the match.

Of course, one could prefer to view this emerging narrative from the perspective of the glass being half full.

That’s certainly how the Sounders prefer to view these unfolding events. And perhaps a case can be made for such optimism.

The Sounders are choosing to describe the team’s current state of affairs as going “undefeated in its last four matches.” It goes on to say that Seattle’s “current four-game unbeaten streak equals the longest, current run in the MLS.”

It is also true that Schmid has yet to field his most dynamic starting 11. And it’s also true that the emergence of Mauro Rosales along with a healthy Montero and a solidfiying supporting cast could turn the corner overnight. To do that, though, Schmid is going to need a better performance from his back line and more imaginative runs and final passes from his front line and midfielders.

Still, it’s hard to get excited about this “league-leading unbeaten streak.” Maybe, it’s just me. Even the Sounders do concede, the team has yet “to hit its stride.”

But the team clearly believes it’s close to finding answers. The next five matches will go far in defining the team’s season and fans will then have a clear idea what direction the Sounders are heading in 2011.

Until then, is the glass half empty or half full? Take your pick.


YourThoughts

  • rainier beacher

    I prefer half full, thank you. Sigi is not only “shuffling his lineup in an effort to find the right combination of starters”, but also due to health issues. I don’t see having high goals(MLS cup) as being “a problem”, as you say.
    So, why half full? The team is trending towards a more cohesive unit. This is indicated by being able to earn a draw against a very defensive minded team in a game that was every bit as “dull and uninspiring” as you describe. One aspect of the beautiful game that newer fans don’t appreciate is that there are good draws and bad draws, and this was a good draw. Rosales is meshing very well with team and I think this next game will be the first one this year that Sigi will have a full roster to choose from.

  • brew

    It’s way to early to call the next five games an indicator of how the season will go. Sure, after the next five games we will be basically at one third of the season. However, that doesn’t take into account the team suddenly getting hot (or not) and going on a run. Will they not get hot and go on a skid? I would be suprised – you also have to factor in the schedule. The Sounders are (except against Philly) playing some good soccer – enjoy and it will come.

  • SeattleNative

    I believe the last 45 played is indicative of a team coming together. The forward push and scoring mentality seemed to really take hold. I agree their first half play put them in a hole. Their response, however, was encouraging. Rosales is our most dynamic player since the NASL days. Blending Rosales, Montero, Zak with Flaco and Friberg will be critical. I predict good results in the future. I can see our momentum building as we add some W’s to our unbeaten streak.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=604628250 Danielle Ni Dhighe

    Check your facts. Colt McCoy is a 2nd year player.