Halfway through its inaugural season, Seattle Sounders FC has exceeded expectations – except for the unreasonable ones they brought on themselves with an eye-popping 3-0 start.
Over those first three games, the Sounders outscored opponents 7-0, which represented the most goals in Major League Soccer during that stretch and the fewest allowed.
For the most part, all they’ve been guilty of since then is simply failure to maintain that unsustainable pace.
Now, when you combine those first three games with the dozen that have followed, you reach the exact midpoint of a 30-game MLS regular season. That’s enough that hot streaks can be mitigated by cold streaks, good luck can be washed away by bad. Suddenly, you’re looking not just at a few brush strokes, but at the beginnings of a full portrait.
And at this midpoint, the Sounders’ 5-3-7 record represents far more good news than bad.
Good: The Sounders stand as MLS’ second fastest-starting expansion team. The 1998 Chicago Fire was 10-5 at this point of its first season, at a time when MLS settled draws without shootouts. But Seattle is the only other MLS expansion team to have more wins than losses at this point. The nearest contender was Toronto FC, which started 5-7-3 in 2007. The 1998 Miami Fusion – which joins Chicago as the only MLS expansion teams to make the playoffs – stood at 5-10.
Good: Seattle’s 22 points are fourth most in a league that sends its top eight teams to the playoffs.
It should be noted that all of the 10 teams directly behind Seattle in the standings have played fewer games – three fewer in the case of Colorado, which looms just two points back and will be the Sounders’ next opponent.
Even at that, Seattle’s average of 1.47 points per game ranks fifth.
Good: Seattle leads MLS in assists, fouls suffered and corner kicks, and is second in goals and third in offsides – all indicators of an attacking style.
Good: Fredy Montero is tied for third in MLS with seven goals. He also is third in shots, fifth in shots on goal, and he leads the league in fouls suffered.
Good: Kasey Keller is third with a 0.90 goals-against average, is tied for third in shutouts, and is seventh in saves. His season-opening streak of 457 shutout minutes is the second-longest run in MLS this season.
Beyond-your-wildest-dreams good: The Sounders are averaging 29,364 fans per home game. That is almost twice the MLS average of 14,957 and towers over runner-up Toronto’s average of 20,220. And Seattle’s attendance record will only grow, starting Sunday when new sections will open to create a capacity of around 34,500. Sounders officials don’t expect to have an unsold Qwest Field seat all season.
And while the Sounders’ schedule seemed front-loaded with home games, the difference at the midpoint is as minor as mathematically possible: eight of their first 15 games at home, seven of their next 15 at home.
So, what’s not-so-good?
Well, all those draws drive some folks crazy.
Designated player Freddie Ljungberg has contributed, but seldom has dominated. He has missed four games and five starts because of injury or suspension. And, ominously, Montero’s best games have come with Ljungberg off the pitch.
The team also went through a stretch of disciplinary suspensions when aggressiveness morphed into lack of discipline.
But each of those issues seems to have eased recently. First, it was coach Sigi Schmid who took control. Most recently, Keller stepped up. In each case, the team seemed to respond.
If that continues, fans have reason to expect a second half that is better still. This is, after all, a collection of players – including a core of discarded players – who reported to camp as strangers and are still blending into a team.
“I have to give our coach Sigi Schmid two thumbs up for the job that he has done,” Montero said Saturday. “He put together a great team, and even though we are not all to the level where he wants us, I believe that as the games and time goes on, we will be at the level where Coach wants us. Hopefully, this team stays on the rise and we reach the playoffs on a high note.”