Improbable Playoff Run Hands Seattle Sounders Chance to Earn First MLS Cup

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistNovember 28, 2016

Seattle Sounders forward Nicolas Lodeiro, right, celebrates near forward Jordan Morris, left, after Lodeiro scored a goal against the Colorado Rapids in the second half of the first leg of the MLS soccer Western Conference championship, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat the Rapids 2-1.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The Seattle Sounders weren't supposed to be a participant in MLS Cup. 

The winners of the Major League Soccer Western Conference Championship were left for dead at the end of July following a brutal performance against Sporting Kansas City that led to the dismissal of longtime head coach Sigi Schmid. 

The club, led by interim-turned-permanent boss Brian Schmetzer, were the underdogs against Supporters' Shield winners FC Dallas in the semi-final round of the postseason, but they handled the top dogs of the West with ease over two legs. 

Sunday's trip to Dick's Sporting Goods Park for the second leg of the West final against the Colorado Rapids was supposed to be a task as impossible as they come given the Rapids' terrific form at home in 2016. 

But once again, the Sounders rose up from out of nowhere and clinched the first of two spots in the MLS Cup final on December 10.

If that's not enough to impress you, the Sounders did all of this without Clint Dempsey, who was ruled out for the season with an irregular heartbeat at the end of September. 

On top of all that, forward Jordan Morris, who scored Sunday's game-winner to put the Sounders through 3-1 on aggregate, was playing with flu-like symptoms, according to the ESPN broadcast. 

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

With everything coming together at the perfect time, it's hard not to believe the Sounders are a team of destiny.

Things could get even sweeter for the Sounders if the Montreal Impact come out on top in the second leg of Wednesday's Eastern Conference Championship. An Impact victory would make the soccer-mad city of Seattle the site of the MLS Cup final. 

All of this has occurred in a wild span of three months and spurred by a change that was brewing for quite some time. 

Despite achieving plenty of success under Schmid, including four U.S. Open Cups, the Sounders were never able to get over the hump and reach MLS Cup, even with players such as Dempsey and Obafemi Martins lighting the nets on fire for long stretches. 

Dempsey has been a key figure in Seattle for years.
Dempsey has been a key figure in Seattle for years.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Martins left the club in the offseason after receiving a lucrative offer in China, a transfer that thrust the rookie Morris into a headlining role almost immediately. In addition to suffering a blow in attack, the Sounders had to find a perfect recipe for success at center-back, with Roman Torres recovering from an ACL injury. 

Over the first five months of the season, the Sounders were dealt blow after blow, as they earned just 20 points from 20 matches. During that span, Seattle only picked up points in consecutive games twice. 

With tolerance for Schmid shriveling, the Sounders fell flat on their faces in a 3-0 loss to Sporting KC on July 24. In that game, Seattle mustered one shot, which went off target, enjoyed just 35.2 percent of the possession and completed 250 fewer passes than their opponents. 

The introduction of Schmetzer, who was an assistant under Schmid, instantly brought new life into the franchise. And in a league where parity reigns supreme, the Sounders started a charge into the postseason. 

Schmetzer took over at the end of July.
Schmetzer took over at the end of July.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

From July 31 to the end of the regular season on October 23, the Sounders lost twice, to the rival Portland Timbers and to FC Dallas on the penultimate weekend of the campaign. 

A 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Decision Day handed the Sounders an improbable home game in the knockout round against the same Sporting KC side they faced on one of the darkest days since their entrance into MLS in 2009.

That's when the Sounders started to trigger the thought that they are a team of destiny. Nelson Valdez, a forward known for his lack of productivity in front of the net, provided the club with an 88th-minute winner. The tally was the first of 2016 for Valdez and only his second in 35 MLS contests. 

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Then came the eight-minute onslaught at home in the first leg of the Western Conference semi-final that was led by Morris and midseason acquisition Nicolas Lodeiro. The Uruguayan designated player scored twice after Valdez, the unlikely hero of the postseason run, opened the scoring at CenturyLink Field.

Lodeiro was the driver of Seattle's late-season surge. The 27-year-old is a rare outlier among midseason signings. Normally, new faces to the league struggle to adjust right away, but Lodeiro did his research. He was given a subscription to the league's streaming service, MLS Live, beforehand to see exactly what he was going to be dealing with. 

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The attacking midfielder hit the ground running and never looked back, as he scored four goals and provided eight assists in 13 regular-season appearances.

It came as no surprise to anyone that the three key cogs in attack provided the knockout punch in the 56th minute on Sunday.

The electric transfer from South America played a ball to the head off the castoff, who fed the hardworking rookie in the buildup to what will go down as one of the most important goals in club history.

The goal came after a first-half performance that drew comparisons to the lackluster summer afternoon in Kansas City. But just like they did in the regular season, Seattle rose from the ashes to earn the long-coveted place in MLS Cup. 

There's still one match to be played, and an important one at that, but after everything the Sounders have fought through in such a short period, it's hard to argue that they are not a team of destiny. 

     

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter; @JTansey90

Related

    Gustav Svensson: After win, Sounders will find it “easier to relax”

    Seattle Sounders FC logo
    Seattle Sounders FC

    Gustav Svensson: After win, Sounders will find it “easier to relax”

    Sounder At Heart
    via Sounder At Heart

    Roma Confirm Liverpool Interest in Alisson

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Roma Confirm Liverpool Interest in Alisson

    Getty Images
    via Goal

    Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United: Community player ratings form

    Seattle Sounders FC logo
    Seattle Sounders FC

    Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United: Community player ratings form

    Sounder At Heart
    via Sounder At Heart

    Chelsea to Bid £66M for Napoli's Koulibaly

    World Football logo
    World Football

    Chelsea to Bid £66M for Napoli's Koulibaly

    Tom Coast
    via Sport Witness