The Seattle Sounders travel to face the Houston Dynamo this weekend, and they do so with a multitude of excuses in hand. Most obvious is the travel; 3,650 miles one way with numerous delays followed by another 1,765 miles the other way. The Sounders played their first team just four days ago, and the heat and humidity in Panama surely took something out of those that went a full 90 minutes. The Sounders earned a poor result against San Francisco FC on Tuesday night, and there's bound to be some lingering effect. And then of course there's the Manchester United friendly and whatever hangover there might be hanging over the heads of the Rave Green.
In actuality, very little of that matters in the least. It's not that those factors aren't present and that they won't have some effect on the team. It's that, as legitimate title contenders, they quite simply shouldn't matter. The Sounders have moved into the inner-circle of the Supporters Shield race and though at earlier points in the season there were reasons to justify their under-performance, they've reached a point from which retreat is rather painful. Should the Sounders slip, and draw a less favorable playoff pairing, and exit before an MLS Cup berth, it wouldn't be at all a sign of failure. This is after all just the third year of the franchise, and though they've been one of the better teams in MLS for the majority of these past few months their loss of key players present coming into the season would serve as something of an explanation for underachievement.
But we know the Sounders can be better than that. We've seen it. It's been on display, in their ending of Real Salt Lake's home undefeated streak, or their domination of Toronto FC at home, or the tenacity shown in their double-comeback against the Timbers at Jeld-Wen. This is a damned good team, and no one-in-a-million game against one of the best teams in the world where everything went the way of the Devil or a sloppy performance in the first leg of a home-and-home tie against a spirited but clearly inferior foe should distract us from that reality. The Sounders belong in the discussion of the elite in MLS, and there's good reason to believe they belong in the discussion of the better teams in CONCACAF.
Teams if that stature don't drop points to the current version of the Houston Dynamo, and they certainly don't lose to them. The last time these two sides met, the Sounders were dominant in nearly every phase of the game on their own turf and somehow managed to earn just a point by the skin of their teeth, Steve Zakuani netting the Sounders first goal of the season. Seattle has come a long way since then, and they've done a hell of a lot of growing up. This is a team that has every right to expect three points from this game, and though a failure to secure them would be far from a disaster in terms of their playoff hopes it may very well invoke questions about their includion amongst the league's elite.
Let's be clear; the Dynamo aren't a cupcake, and they're not a team the Sounders should be expected to walk all over. But they are a team Seattle should expect to beat, no matter the venue or the circumstances involved. Should the Sounder emerge without having secured three points it most certainly won't be the end of the world, but it will put them into the realm of outsiders in terms of the Supporters Shield race. And after all that's been accomplished this season, that would be a pretty massive disappointment. With all this team has endured, they've come out right in the mix for every trophy for which they compete. This isn't the time for a letdown. The Sounders need three points, and they need them just as desperately now as they did when their season looked on the verge of collapse. It's far better to be a victim of one's own success than it is to disappoint.