In what has become one of my favorite traditions, I chatted with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart about Seattle Sounders. This time, it’s ahead of a playoff match, and it’s been a while since we’ve been in this position.
Injuries have defined a lot of the Sounders’ regular season — will they be a defining factor in the playoffs?
Probably not. Everyone who carried Seattle to the #2 seed should be healthy and available except for Nouhou and Will Bruin. Jordan Morris is back after playing 76 competitive minutes and 80 in a scrimmage last week. Heck, word is that the other 2020 MVP candidate for Sounders, Nicolás Lodeiro, may even be on the bench. I forgot what being mostly healthy was like — that’s true for soccer and real life.
RSL beat Seattle last time they met (Sept. 18), and your side looked extremely lackluster — why will this one be different?
The best reason to think this match will be different is that the September 18th defensive midfield starters will be replaced. The return of an MVP candidate d-mid is a big deal. Just the third d-mid to be a finalist for the MVP, his importance to the team is somehow understated. Frankly, I downplayed it for too long. The loss to Salt Lake and so many of the late season failures changed my mind. With JP the defense is stronger; the transition and possession are the best in the league; the attack is better.
What gives you hope after a pretty miserable end to the season?
João Paulo is back. Raúl Ruidíaz is back. Jordan Morris is back.
Those three dudes can take over any game that they’re in. If the team clicks they’re a treasury of dragons.
Flipping that last question around, why are you worried about this match?
The injury plague lasted long enough that not only was the form awful at the end of the season, but these guys may not know how to play together. Thanks to the international break they’re mostly healthy (see above), but they didn’t get to practice together. The Sounders of the first three months of the season were one of the best teams in the league’s history. They’re capable of greatness. They’re also capable of losing to Houston and LAFC, bad MLS teams. Without re-learning how to play together the playoff run could be short.
There are some dangerous players RSL fans should look out for — but who might we not be thinking about?
Let’s go with two who have managed to reinvent their careers while being rotational players with Seattle this season. Brian Schmetzer leaned on Jimmy Medranda and Kelyn Rowe more than anyone could imagine. Rowe played more minutes this year than he did in 2020, 2019, and 2018 - combined. Kelyn talks his way into a contract with the Sounders, and then his play kept him on the feld. He can contribute in six different roles, learning more defense as the year went on.
Finally healthy, Medranda also totaled more minutes than he did in 2019 and 2020 combined. Now consistently a left wingback rather than the traditional winger or central attacking mid of his past he set personal bests for both goals and assists, by moving back a line. it’s likely that neither start, and they both could claim the player of the match.
The Sounders have proven a strong pipeline into head coach roles. What’s that key to success?
It kind of helps when there are two separate coaching trees that intertwine like the Sigi Schmid and Brian Schmetzer trees do. So, while the Sounders will have former assistants at Chicago and Atlanta (also Yokohama F.Marinos head coach, an assistant at Colorado and senior staff at RSL, Austin, Charlotte) they aren’t all parts of the same system. Some of the successes don’t have a connection to the current coach or GM, what they all have is a connection to the culture of the org that’s only had two owners, two GMs and two coaches over the past 19 years and only missed the playoffs once. There’s a lot of success that breeds success going on here. When the Sounders reach out they tend to get people who already have strong pedigrees and then improve them as the collective continues to do well. That helps everyone take their next step in their career.
Check out the Sounder at Heart previews and my answers to Dave’s questions. He’s also very passionate about storytelling in Dungeons and Dragons — check out his site, Full Moon Storytelling. A big thanks to Dave, as always!