Sounders gaining ground thanks to healthier bodies, grittier minds
Seattle's five-game unbeaten streak is due in part to players returning from injury, but coach Sigi Schmid also credits renewed passion and determination on his team.
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The Sounders are back.
They have won three out of four games and gone unbeaten in five. They are jumping up in the standings and soaring in MLS power rankings leaguewide.
For the first time this season, Seattle isn't at least tied for the fewest points in the Western Conference coming into the week.
So what exactly led to the turnaround?
"Something we started talking about was, 'We've got to find our passion and our determination and our grit,' " coach Sigi Schmid said after Saturday's 4-0 home win against San Jose.
"If we can find that part of our game, as I told the team, the soccer will follow."
That passion, determination and grit came on a three-game road trip earlier this month, according to Schmid, when the Sounders went 2-0-1 in visits to Colorado, Philadelphia and Kansas City. Each result had a fair share of luck, and Seattle easily could have gone 0-1-2, but the tenacious, scrappy attitude was back — a stark contrast to a docile start to the league season.
The team's quality finally caught up to effort in Saturday's four-goal demolition of the Earthquakes, who boasted the best record in MLS last year and had won four in a row against the Sounders.
"I am very proud of the team and the hard work we have been doing," said midfielder and captain Mauro Rosales. "It shows because we want to get better and be a tough team."
Seattle was winless in five games to the start the year, though goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said the slump was not as bad as it looked "because we had chances and we had good games. We just didn't have a (win)."
With one more win or tie this weekend, Seattle will match the third-longest unbeaten streak in team history.
Schmid called the matchup "a really good measuring stick for us."
Where the Sounders continue to struggle is with injuries, though team health has been improving.
Forward Obafemi Martins, who has been battling a knee injury, played most of the second half against San Jose and scored the final goal in the blowout. Fellow designated player Shalrie Joseph, coming back from a hamstring strain, played 90 minutes in Sunday's reserve game against Orlando City SC. Midfielder Steve Zakuani, on his way back from a groin injury, went 55 minutes with the reserves.
But the turnaround has been just as much about attitude as personnel.
"There is a lot of pride in that locker room, and there was a lot of disappointment when we didn't get off to the start we wanted," Schmid said. "We had a little bit of a distraction called the Champions League, as well, that held our focus, and we accomplished some things there. We were the first U.S. team to knock off a Mexican team head-to-head, and I think that can't be minimized.
"We were one goal away from possibly advancing to the (CCL) finals. We did well there and maybe our focus was a little too great on that in those games sometimes. I just think the guys know their quality, they know they're better than that, and since (the CCL run), everybody's sort of been very determined about turning it around."
• Sounders FC fell to 1-2-1 in the MLS Reserve League with a 2-0 loss Sunday against Orlando City SC of the USL PRO. The game was played at Tacoma's Cheney Stadium as a way to test the market as the Sounders explore possibilities for their own USL PRO affiliate. The next reserve game for the Sounders is June 2 at Chivas USA.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @joshuamayers