Can you believe the Seattle Sounders? In July, after the team lost 3-1 to a superior Los Angeles Galaxy side, the majority of the fanbase were convinced that there was no way that we would see rave green in the MLS playoffs. Sounder at Heart, however, was keeping hope alive, with Jeremiah Oshan's article outlining how the Kansas City Wizards, Real Salt Lake, and the Galaxy had all, at one point in their history, overcome bigger deficits to reach the playoffs. Still, the Sounders were behind the Union, believe it or not, and had only a 5.4% chance of reaching those eight playoff slots.
Yet here we are. It's almost October, and the Sounders only have four MLS matches left to play. Three more points is likely to be sufficient to cement Seattle's spot in the playoffs, but they already have one more point than they had at this point in last year's season . And last year the team didn't need to account for CONCACAF Champions League play, and had finished the Open Cup a month earlier.
While last year's team was fun to watch, particularly for Seattle's first year in MLS, this year's side brings more inherent talent, and although some of that talent was present last year, it has been refined and polished. Osvaldo Alonso has grown from his role as primarily a defensive midfielder to one who can make a mess at both ends as a box-to-box midfielder. Steve Zakuani has more confidence this year, and creates a nuisance on the wing. And Fredy Montero...well, I could write columns on the star forward, and have, but we'll just say he's finally found a way to use his trickery and cunning to enhance his game.
Depth helps, as well, especially with such an intense schedule. While much was made of the Galaxy starting their B-side in the Open Cup game in July, the Sounders went with their second string as well, and dominated the match. We're sending out the likes of Mike Seamon, Nate Jaqua, David Estrada and Miguel Montaño -as reserves.
And of course, there are the excellent pickups made by Seattle this season. While Pat Noonan was clearly a flop of the first order, the Sounders made up for it by snatching Jeff Parke, who they had signed in the 208 expansion draft but released before ever having him play a game. Smart move by the Sounders, as the Parke/Patrick Ianni center back pairing has been terrific this season.
But the biggest enhancement of this year's side has been in the designated player slot, getting rid of Freddie Ljungberg and bringing in Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez. Nkuko's four goals in two games has helped to win over doubters, but even before he started scoring, the striker was instrumental in holding up play and allowing space for Montero to create havoc. Fernandez helps anchor the midfield, with his vision and passing ability, and is particularly devastating on the counterattack, with his speed and control allowing him past opposition defense.
What a ride, Sounders. Now let's just complete the journey without going off the rails. Three more points.