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For Sounders, Much Is Riding On Sunday's Game

SoundersScore.jpg
Ted S. Warren
/
AP Photo
Sounders forward Chad Barrett, center, kicks in the equalizing goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy during stoppage time on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, in Seattle. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.

The Seattle Sounders play the final game of the regular season this weekend. They host Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says there's a lot a stake.

Can They Make It?

"This could be a very dramatic game for the Sounders," Thiel said. "They could miss the playoffs for the first time in their seven-year Major League Soccer history.

"They are one of seven teams seeking six spots in the MLS Western Conference playoffs. Three teams are already in: Dallas, Los Angeles and Vancouver.  Seattle is one of four teams competing for the final three spots.”

"They have a record of 14 wins, three losses and six draws, which is the acme of mediocre," Thiel continued. "There are a lot of playoff permutations but the Sounders can make it really simple on themselves and their fans by winning Sunday.

"If they win that game, they’re in. If they tie or they lose, then the permutations are endless as to whether they make it and, if so, who they will play.”

Unexpected Drama

Thiel pointed out that the Sounders were touted as major contenders for the MLS Cup at the beginning of the season.

"That certainly was the expectation, but they’ve had an enormous amount of roster disruption and it’s really inhibited a free-flowing style of play," he said.

"They’ve had a number of injuries. Of course, all teams have those.

"They’ve also had a number of international call-ups for the various competitions that the Sounders also engage in. And the better teams have to deal with that as well.

"And they've had a couple of suspensions that were under their control. Clint Dempsey tore up a referee’s notebook in one game and got a suspension. And Marco Pappa was found to be driving drunk and so he was suspended.

"All of this has added up to a team that does not possess the ball very well and doesn’t advance the action very well," Thiel said.

'Look Like Strangers’

Thiel said the team also seems to lack cohesion. "They’ve got so many new players because, in the international transfer window, the Sounders added four quality players. Some of them are playing out of position where they’re uncomfortable," he said.

"It’s always a clumsy thing to try to add new players at midseason and the Sounders are paying the price by not having much flow and continuity in their offensive attack," he said.

Thiel noted that the players "look like strangers" on the pitch.

"It’s really an odd thing for a team that has a core of veterans that should be playing well together. The new guys have not blended in well.

"They’re just not getting the ball to Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins in the place where they can be most useful.

"These guys are two of the best players in the MLS and they’re not being used well enough by the rest of the team to advance the offense.

"So, that’s the biggest problem. I doubt if they can fix it in one game. This is not looking like a solid playoff contender right now," Thiel said.

'Real Problem' If They Fail

So, what happens if the Sounders miss the playoffs? Or, if they make it in, but have a quick exit?

"I think it will be a real problem for the Sounders to continue with the same core group. And it may be time for a coaching change," Thiel opined.

"I’m not saying that Sigi Schmid has done a bad job but there were such expectations with this team.

"And they have so many resources. Given the attendance at the Sounders games, which is more than 40,000 average, which is double the next best team.

"There are a lot of resources here—a lot of money—a lot of investment. And especially the emotional and financial investment from the fans. And they haven’t even been rewarded with a MLS Cup appearance, much less a championship.

"My guess is there’s going to be [a] major overhaul if these guys don’t advance far in the playoffs.”

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You can find Art Thiel’s work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between historylink.org and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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