Did Clint Dempsey’s hat trick kick off a new Sounders revolution?

Aug 8, 2016, 2:30 PM | Updated: 3:03 pm
Clint Dempsey's three goals could signal a new era for the Sounders under coach Brian Schmetzer. (A...
Clint Dempsey's three goals could signal a new era for the Sounders under coach Brian Schmetzer. (AP)

Let’s go back to around this time in 2015, when the Sounders had lost nine of 11 games. They headed into Week 25 of that season with 32 points, and the playoff spots looked to be slipping away from them. But it was that weekend, Aug. 16, that Seattle played host to expansion club Orlando City for the first time.

Despite coming off of a five-match losing streak, the Sounders unleashed on the Lions at CenturyLink Field. Obafemi Martins scored twice in that match, his first after a long injury absence, as the Sounders cruised to a 4-0 win. What happened next? Seattle lost just one out of their final nine matches of the season, landing in fourth place in the West with 51 points – and more importantly, a spot in the playoffs.

Now let’s go back to the present: the Sounders have had a horrible, horrible 2016. They came into Sunday’s match in ninth place in the West, with 21 points after 21 matches. But they traveled to Orlando for the very first time with a slight spring in their step and came away with a huge 3-1 win. Whether it was due to the shakeup in the head coaching position or the signing of Nicolas Lodeiro, the Sounders looked reinvigorated in the epic road victory. Can the Sounders use another win against Orlando as a springboard to the playoffs? If the dam has broken for Clint Dempsey and his chemistry with Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, it’s certainly possible.

There are a few things that stand out from Seattle’s win that, if they can be done consistently, could carry the club into MLS Cup playoff contention:

Create not just chances, but good chances. Former head coach Sigi Schmid wasn’t one to discuss numbers as a true signifier of his team’s quality, but one area he did like to bring up was chance creation. And it’s true, the Sounders did create a lot of chances earlier this season. But goals, or even shots on goal, were often few and far between. Against Orlando City, the Sounders got the ball to its attackers in positions that made it difficult not to score (though they still managed to do so on a couple occasions). Lodeiro played a huge part in this: his through balls to Jordan Morris and Tyrone Mears set up two of the goals, and even the few crosses he put in were far better than the Sounders have had all season. Speaking of crosses…

Stop crossing. No, seriously. For much of the 2016 season, the Sounders have been at or near the top of the charts for all crossing-related stats – the good (121 accurate), the bad (486 attempted total), and the very ugly (365 inaccurate). Schmid’s gameplan was clearly cross-focused in a number of matches, and it rarely paid off. It was an attempt to take advantage of the delivery of Andreas Ivanschitz and the target play of Nelson Valdez; unfortunately neither are great at that, and nothing really came of most of this sort of method. Against Orlando City, the Sounders attempted far fewer crosses than normal (11) and only connected with two of them, and those were from corner kicks. Crosses were not part of interim coach Brian Schmetzer’s plan on Sunday, as he clearly recognizes that it doesn’t work for his team.

Chemistry, especially in the attack. In barely over a week training with his new club, Lodeiro looks like he’d been in the squad all season. He read Morris’ mind a number of times, and caught Mears’ outside run with a devastating through ball that turned into Seattle’s first goal. If Lodeiro continues to gel with Morris and Dempsey, they will be absolutely lethal in attack.

The right players on the pitch. At times, Schmid seemed to pick players he thought he was supposed to, like Valdez or Zach Scott. He wavered a bit in that this season, but there were still times when the inclusion of certain players seemed downright perplexing. Nothing against those players in particular, but they just aren’t good enough for this Sounders team right now. Scott is a club legend and deserves to work with the club forever, but his place is no longer in the heart of defense. Valdez was an expensive experiment that has barely paid off for the club, and should only be played as a second (or third) option. Seattle had its best players on the pitch against Orlando (bar a fully fit Roman Torres), and they were unstoppable.

Realize that possession isn’t everything. Possession is another statistic that Schmid would bring up at times, especially when it was one of the few positive stats in a match. But possession without goals is useless, and that was often the situation with the Sounders earlier this season. They would hold the ball in their area and pass around, waiting for an opening or a chance to punt the ball forward and hope a forward found it. Against Orlando City, the Sounders only had 46 percent of possession. But they utilized the counter attack well and punished Orlando, which wasn’t able to do anything with its possession; the Lions lone goal was from a corner kick.

Even if the Sounders do all of these things right, the cards might not fall for them to make the playoffs in 2016. Reality is hard and frustrating, but some things will be out of Seattle’s control. But at the very least, if the Sounders adhere to the things they do well, they’ll be setting a foundation for success in seasons to come.

Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.

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Did Clint Dempsey’s hat trick kick off a new Sounders revolution?