The Seattle Sounders’ historic regular season wasn’t over long before people started talking about their postseason history — which isn’t as sparkling.
The Sounders have made the playoffs in all six of their MLS seasons. And this season was the best of all as they won their first Supporters’ Shield and set a club record with 20 victories.
However, after qualifying for those postseasons, the Sounders have been eliminated by their first opponent three times and by their second opponent twice. They have made it to the conference finals once, and never to the MLS Cup.
“People always want to talk about the history,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Our history in the (playoffs) is when we’ve played the second game at home we’ve always won, and we just have to make sure that we’re in it after the first game.”
Schmid means the Sounders have always won that second game, not the series. In 2011, the Sounders fell three goals down in the opening road leg at Salt Lake, so their 2-0 win at home wasn’t enough. In 2012, they dug another three-goal hole, so their 2-1 home win also fell short.
Sounders FC hopes to improve on that at 6 p.m. Sunday at FC Dallas in the opening match of a two-game, aggregate-score Western Conference semifinal.
“We were maybe naive or maybe too aggressive at times,” Schmid said of those previous road openers. “When we went down, we wanted to get the goal back, and then we dug ourselves a hole too big to come out of. … We’ve got to make sure that we’re smart enough that we realize, ‘Hey, if we’re down a goal, we go back 1-0, we’re OK with that.’ ”
The Sounders expect improvement this season partly because they believe they are a better team — in skill set and mindset.
“I don’t think players were in the right mindset last year,” captain Brad Evans. “We had a lot of rotation last year. We had a little bit of commiserating in the locker room when things weren’t going well; and this year’s a lot different. I think that we’ve stuck together as a team. … I think we’re coming into the playoffs different than we were last year.”
The Sounders ended the 2013 regular season with a seven-game winless streak. Then they survived the knockout game at home against Colorado before being eliminated in the conference semifinals, losing the home and road legs against Portland.
This season, Seattle won a stretch duel with the Galaxy for their first Supporters’ Shield, including the 2-0 home clincher in the final match last weekend.
As much pride as the Sounders take in that, the result also brings them face-to-face with another grim history: Only six times in 18 previous seasons has the Supporters’ Shield winner gone on to win MLS Cup. However, Schmid has done it twice: once with Los Angeles and once with Columbus.
“In the playoffs you need your special players to be special,” he said. “I know for us in 2002, that was (Carlos) Ruiz — I think he had eight goals in the playoffs or something like that. … It was (Guillermo) Schelotto who came through when we were in Columbus together. But it’s also you’ve got to be hot at the right time, you’ve got to get a break along the way, you’ve got to have a goalkeeper who is in form because that helps you as well. But I think this team has those ingredients. I think we have those special guys who can make that special difference and carry a guy in the playoffs, and I think we have a goalkeeper (Stefan Frei) in good form. I think defensively we’ve been really solid the last two games.”
If the Sounders pull it off, they won’t have just MLS’ seventh Shield/Cup double, but they also the league’s first-ever treble, as Seattle also owns the U.S. Open Cup.
“I think we’ve achieved a lot this year, but think the guys are still hungry,” Evans said. “… That’s a mindset that we’ve got to keep going. If we want to achieve something that a team’s never done it starts (Sunday).”