How the Sounders became MLS’s comeback kids
A combination of character, confidence and one of the best offenses in MLS has the Sounders thriving amid adversity this season.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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One-nothing is nothing.
Sounders FC’s rousing stretch of comebacks the past few weeks has seemed worthy of a motto, and coach Sigi Schmid was up to the task after Saturday’s rally to beat Chivas USA.
True enough, being down 1-0 has meant little to Seattle this season.
Sure, the team’s 2-0-1 road trip was a bit unconventional, scrappy even, having held the lead in those three games for 19 minutes combined. Yet with much still to be improved in performance, a defining characteristic is emerging seven weeks into the MLS season: a talented team that crumbled under adversity at the end of 2013 is thriving on it this year.
The Sounders’ comeback wins the past two games — both on the road — are already tied for second-best in team history when allowing the first goal. Seattle has earned seven points despite trailing the past three weeks, which matches its total for all of 2010 when trailing.
Just six of 62 MLS games this season have seen a team flip a 1-0 deficit into a win, and the Sounders are responsible for two.
“It’s been fun,” said Lamar Neagle, a Federal Way native.
So what has been key to the comebacks?
Coaches and players are quick to credit the team’s improved character, particularly after it became known that locker-room togetherness was lacking in last year’s collapse. And while character might seem a sappy concept at first glance, Seattle has scored four result-changing goals — three winners and an equalizer — in the 80th minute or later.
Mentality, though, can only get a team so far. And perhaps just as important is what has become perhaps the league’s most dynamic and lethal offense, led by designated players Clint Dempsey (six goals, tied for MLS lead) and Obafemi Martins (four assists, league high).
The comeback trend has been similar to the 2011 Sounders, a team with multiple scoring threats that led MLS with 56 goals and had one of the best seasons in league history after allowing the first goal at 7-7-3.
Three years later, the Sounders have another superstar-led attack loaded with complementary weapons.
“The spirit of the group is good in the sense that Dempsey is firing on all cylinders, Oba is firing on all cylinders, and we have massive competition for limited spots,” said assistant coach Brian Schmetzer. “That is driving the ship and that is going to drive people to play well.”
There can’t be a run of comebacks without a similar run of giving up goals, though. “We don’t make it easy on ourselves, do we?” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said.
The Sounders’ defense has been especially error-prone the past several weeks, and opponents’ goals have come more through Seattle’s mistakes than especially good attacking buildup. Three goals in the past four weeks were on penalty kicks.
At the end of last season, an early goal was disastrous, as the Sounders lost their final six games when giving up the game’s first goal. In some instances, there was little fight displayed as the opponent went on to score the next goal in five instances and then made it 3-0 in three of those games.
A few months (and many roster changes) later, confidence has been restored.
Seattle’s offense ranks second in the league, averaging two goals.
Fourteen goals is a team record through seven games, and the Sounders had never gone this deep into a season without being shut out.
“Sometimes we take some goals that we shouldn’t, but we know that we can score, so we know we can cover each other,” Neagle said. “I know one of these days we’ll get a shutout and a ton of goals, and that will be nice for everybody. But as of right now, we’re not mad about it.”
So is this run of comebacks sustainable? Maybe. Maybe not.
Ideally, it won’t have to be.
“We’ll keep getting better,” said midfielder Brad Evans. “If we get results now like this, later down the road when we really hit our stride, I think we’ll be in good form.”
Year of the comeback?
|Seattle’s two comeback wins this season after trailing 1-0 are tied for second-best in team history.|
|Season||Record after trailing||Pts. after trailing|
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @joshuamayers