What's that Sounders I hear?
On the eve of Toronto FC's MLS Cup triumph, I wrote why all MLS fans should want them to win, then repeat. The Reds lag nine points away from the playoffs with seven games to play, so we won’t talk about that.
In the same article we’re not discussing, I opined Seattle Sounders’ window was closing after successive MLS Cup finals. The team wasn’t ageing with grace, I thought. Their start to the 2018 Major League Soccer campaign massaged my ego. They were in the Western Conference cellar and bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League. I laughed and looked away. Fool, me.
In my defence, I wrote two more recent pieces, one paying tribute to Clint Dempsey’s graceful retirement, the other questioning why MLS sides are so poor defensively. Right or wrong, I stand by all three.
- I still think a TFC repeat and Champions League triumph would’ve given MLS a serious lift. They aren’t going to do it; more is the pity.
- I wrote another Sounders piece on Jordan Morris titled “Morris the Pity” which doesn't relate in any way to this column. Read it anyway.
- Clint Dempsey [as he realised] was major ballast dragging Seattle down the table. His two goals on the campaign make the point. The seven-game winning streak that's entrenched Sounders in the playoff picture began in his absence.
- MLS sides don’t play defence. There are 34 games in an MLS campaign. As we speak most teams have seven remaining. Four from the league's 23 [Seattle, New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City and Atlanta United] can finish averaging less than one goal conceded per game. SKC and Atlanta, on 33 shipped, must keep clean sheets from now ‘til season’s end to manage the trick. Both Sounders and the Red Bulls have allowed one goal more than matches played. They're the best in a bad bunch.
- I began yet another story, this one on Jose Mourinho, quoting the maxim declaring goals win games while defence wins titles. Seattle’s defensive record in 2018 has me rethinking the idea their window's closed. They’re well-poised for a third MLS Cup appearance on the trot.
- Sorry, I had Chinese for lunch, today. The fortune cookie said "shamelessly plug your work".
Seattle’s resurgence is primarily down to the defensive midfield. Osvaldo Alonso's back from injury. The Cuban is 32 but compact, bullet-headed d-mids tend to age better than long, lanky Texan forwards. Alonso and the much younger  Swede, Gustav Svensson run solid interference for centre-backs Chad Marshall  and Kee Hee Kim . Defenders trade on vintage, too.
The quartet allows Cristian Roldan to take a few liberties in a more advanced role, albeit not too many, after first doing yeoman work in Alonso's place. The 23-year-old Guatemalan whippersnapper has played every MLS minute, linking the defence to playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro and the attack.
With Morris still recovering from a ruptured cruciate ligament and Dempsey reaching his end, Seattle’s attack ranks nigh worst in a league that trades on goals. The Sounders bulged twine 35 times in their 26 matches. Columbus Crew are as impotent but Colorado Rapids remain in direst need of scoring Viagra, with just 31 strikes.
The Green and Blue compensate by holding opponents at bay. Stefan Frei and Brian Meredith picked just 27 balls from their net this season. No other MLS team is so frugal.
Manchester City and now Liverpool argue to the contrary in the Premier League but if defence in fact wins titles, the rest of MLS best look to the Pacific Northwest.