It was not supposed to be this way. After signing Jordan Morris away from Schalke 04 this was supposed to be the year that the Seattle Sounders finally win the MLS Cup.
It was going to be the year that the team and the league get a big finals match at Century Link Field with a packed stadium and some of the loudest and most passionate supporters in the league. The team and the league were to receive their moment in the sun.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Sounders Cup glory – it turns out that despite their high salaries they aren’t particularly good this year.
For a league that attempts to market itself around big name teams and superstar players the 2016 Sounders represent everything that the league fears- a big, overpriced bubble that has burst.
With a little under three months to play in this 2016 MLS season the Sounders find themselves in tenth place in the Western Conference, ten points behind their hated rivals the Portland Timbers for the final playoff spot and a long way from a trophy that seemed to be theirs at the beginning of the season.
While other sides were making big, splashy moves the Sounders stuck to their guns the belief that their vaunted youth academy and international signings would pay off.
Never mind that the club lost leading goal-scorer Obafemi Martins early in the offseason. This is the Seattle Sounders, the team that can put 40,000 in a stadium and get big (well, big for MLS) television ratings.
So why have the Sounders sunk to such lows? As evidenced by the Sporting Kansas City game, the club cannot generate goal-scoring opportunities. Despite fielding the likes of Morris, Clint Dempsey (United States Men’s National Team Player and former Fulham striker), and Nelson Valdez (Paraguayan international) the Sounders have a real trouble finding the back of the net.
The Sounders have scored just 20 goals this season, second lowest in the league. They narrowly avoided becoming the first-ever MLS side to never hit a shot in a match on Sunday only being saved by a late Joevin Jones effort.
The club underestimated the value of Martins and, to a lesser extent, Lamar Neagle, who was traded to D.C. United for some of the league’s ambiguous General Allocation Money, and in the end did not do enough to replace them.
The Valdez move has been a disaster and although Morris (seven goals in 18 matches) and Christian Roldan (a solitary goal in 13 starts) have had their moments they haven’t exactly delivered during key moments.
Morris and Roldan’s lapses would be acceptable given that they are both still new to the league. But because the veterans of the team are failing that leaves little room for error. Despite having a highly touted youth academy system, the Sounders are actually a rather old squad.
Of the eleven players who started on Sunday against Sporting just three were under the age of 30 (Jones, Martin, and Roldan).
While watching on Sunday it seemed as if there was a lack of ideas with the side. Rather than players making long runs down either side or players thinking outside of the box, the tactics were predictable. There was no inspiration even before the first goal in the 21st minute and it certainly did not improve as the match went on.
So where are the Sounders to go from here? The good news is that the club already seems to understand some of their limitations.
Seattle has been in negotiations with Boca Juniors midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro. Lodeiro, who featured for Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup, should help with opening up the Sounders midfield and give Dempsey and Morris more opportunities on the attack.
But Lodeiro cannot ‘band aid’ this situation. The Sounders have to rebuild from the ground up. There are certainly pieces that can be salvaged and some contracts that cannot be cleared out.
The core of this team has taken this side as far as they can and unfortunately it is just not good enough to win the MLS Cup. Players like Morris, Roldan, Jones, Oalex Anderson, Tony Alfaro and Aaron Kovar need to be given priority minutes over the likes of Zach Scott, Osvaldo Alonso, and Valdez.
The idea of giving up on a season might not set well with Sounders supporters, but this club needs an overhaul and the only way to start this reboot is by playing the kids.
The other question is what to do with Sigi Schmid. If the club is looking to rebuild it might not be the best idea to have the same coach that has been with the side for eight years.
A change in philosophy might just be with the doctor ordered. Schmid certainly has a pedigree within MLS and U.S. Soccer that very few other coaches and perhaps he might have another rebuilding effort in him. But it also may be time to move on to other endeavors.
At a certain point professional relationships do fray and fresh ideas and new scenery might be best for all parties.
After working for years to build their reputation as one of the top soccer clubs in North America it may be difficult to say goodbye to old favorites and past memories.
But if the Sounders have any designs on future success and eventually claiming their first-ever MLS Cup then they may need some new ideas to achieve it.