Tale of two teams

Sounders look for return to form after tough end to 2022

Callaghan Bluechel, staff writer

The Seattle Sounders of 2022 had quite pronounced highs and lows. In May, the team became the first American team to win the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football tournament. But just over four months later, the Sounders missed the MLS playoffs for the first time in thirteen years, and in early February 2023, the Sounders were an early exit in the Club World Cup in Morocco. This year, the question on the mind of every Sounders fan has been this: Which team will show up in 2023?

“Last year, they started off pretty strong, going into Champions League … but the MLS season was rough for us since we didn’t make the playoffs,” Jose Ramirez, a freshman criminology major, said. 

Connor Tollan, a freshman business major, echoed Ramirez’s ideas.

“Last year was the first year we didn’t make the playoffs, so that was a little weird,” he said. “But we won the CONCACAF Champions League, so I think that was a big high for us.”

But if the first game of 2023 is any indication, the team is looking up. Facing off against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, Feb. 26, the Sounders won a resounding 4-0 victory. Chief among the performances was homegrown forward Jordan Morris’ two goals and one assist. 

Morris has a unique story that led him to the Sounders. Born on Mercer Island, he grew up as a fan of the team, and he played for the Sounders Academy, winning the U-17/18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Player of the Year Award in 2013. Now that he is a massive part of the professional Sounders team, he is extremely grateful.

“Growing up here, playing for the Academy, my dad being a part of the club before I was and just getting to be around that atmosphere when I was younger, coming to the first game, [I knew] I always wanted to be on the field,” said Morris. “And now all these years later, [I’m] getting to live out that dream. And obviously, winning trophies with this group has been incredible.”

But there are 11 players on the soccer field, and it was not just Morris who won the opening game for the Sounders. 

“It was a team effort,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “As far as Nico [Lodeiro], as far as Nouhou, as far as Yeimar, Albert [Rusnák], Cristian [Roldan], I thought everybody played above their level tonight.”

The first half of the game saw the Sounders get out to a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute via a goal by Cristian Roldan. In the 45th minute, just before halftime, Morris scored his first goal of the evening to put the team up 2-0 going into halftime. 

“It felt good, obviously, to go in [to halftime] 2-0 up, but that’s a dangerous lead,” said Morris. “That was what was preached to us at halftime, was that we need to come out and get the third [goal] and not sit back and let [go of] pressure, but rather keep playing like we were in the first half.”

The Sounders went out into the second half with the same vigor that they had displayed earlier. In the 53rd minute, off-season acquisition forward Héber scored a goal to put the Sounders up 3-0. But the Sounders were not finished. In the 83rd minute, Morris capped off his performance with his second goal of the night, leading to the final score of 4-0. 

A common feature throughout the down days of 2022 was that the Sounders would let in goals late during a half and squander leads.

“I just feel like the team, after Champions League, wasn’t as motivated as they should have been,” Ramirez noted. “Last year was a rough journey for us.”

“If it’s 4-0, it needs to stay 4-0,” Schmetzer said. “You cannot let complacency factor into the game.”

“We always have to turn ahead, we always have to be looking to improve, not only myself but the whole team,” noted Héber. “It’s a team accustomed to winning, and we get more because of that.” 

And on opening night, the team closed the door on the Rapids and finished with the win.

The Sounders will hope to build on this victory and keep everyone healthy for the rest of the 2023 campaign. The team struggled with injuries for most of last year. 

“Last year, we had a lot of injuries, including João Paolo, who was injured in the champions league final, and he was a big part of the team,” said Ramirez. “Losing him affected us tremendously. Having Obed Vargas, a 16-year-old player, rise up was good, but his body was young and he eventually got injured. [We weren’t] able to have Raul Ruidiaz as our striker most of the time because he was injured.” 

These players are mostly back on the starting roster as the 2023 season begins. 

“It looks good, we have some of our top players back. Midfield looks good,” Tollan said. “I’m excited.”

Schmetzer believes the 4-0 opening-day victory can be a good turning point.

“We didn’t like what happened last year. We didn’t like what happened in Morocco,” he said. “And we are now motivated to try and replicate this type of performance and replicate it a bunch of times throughout the early part of this season to see if we can’t make a strong run and get the season started on a good note.”