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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Seattle Sounders face uphill battle in Western Conference Semifinal

By Simon Thomas

The Seattle Sounders FC head into the MLS Playoffs for their 10th consecutive season at the end of a whirlwind year for the team and its fans.

The Sounders did little to bolster their squad ahead of the new season after losing in the 2017 MLS Cup Final to Toronto FC in 2017. It seemed to be a mistake on their part as they only won three in their opening 15 MLS matches.

U.S. Men’s National Team striker Jordan Morris was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL, and the team’s style of play suffered in his absence. To make matters worse, his striking partner and star veteran Clint Dempsey retired mid-season after battling numerous recurring injuries. The team seemed to have little direction when attacking, and midfielders were left looking for passing options that simply weren’t there.

July seemed to be a turning point for the team as they ran with a 12-match winning streak and acquired striker Raúl Ruidíaz from Peru, who revitalized the Sounders’ offense. Ruidíaz has adapted to the league quickly and has figured out how to time his runs to get behind opposing defenders, subsequently changing the team’s method of attacking play. Ruidíaz’s ability has not only created scoring chances for himself, but makes defenders have to chase him down, freeing space for attacking midfielders Nicolás Lodeiro and Víctor Rodríguez. Both have had strong finishes as a result.

This season has been a tale of two halves, and even though the team is not going into the playoffs with their best season record, the form shown in the past three months should give Sounders fans a lot of hope for a strong postseason.

The Sounders are currently preparing for their second playoff match against rivals Portland Timbers on Thursday, Nov. 8 in Seattle. The Sounders lost to the Timbers in Portland 2-1, meaning the they’ll face an uphill battle in the second leg. The MLS Playoffs run on an aggregate scoring system, meaning opponents play in both teams’ stadiums, and the combined scores of both matches decide who moves to the next round. If the aggregate scoreline is equal, then only the goals scored at the opposing team’s stadium will count.

Even though the team lost the first leg, Sounders fans should remain hopeful. Scoring an away goal was vital for the Sounders because they can now focus on their defensive duties knowing they won’t need a big scoreline to progress.

As it stands, a 1-0 win can send the Sounders to the conference final, but if the Timbers score one goal in Seattle, then the Sounders will have to score two more to win at least 3-1 in order to move on. If the team succeeds, they will earn a chance to be the second team to win three consecutive Western Conference titles.

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