MLS Cup Playoffs, 2011: How The Seattle Sounders Got Here

Whether or not Kasey Keller will walk away from the game as a MLS Cup champion could well come to define the Seattle Sounders season. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Sounder at Heart's Dave Clark illustrates how a season that started out slowly has turned into one of significant succes for the Sounders.

It was a season that started on down notes for the Seattle Sounders. Loss to LA at home. Loss to New York on the road. Draw to Houston at home. A Fredy Montero broken wrist. Draw to San Jose on the road. Crushing tackle on Steve Zakuani. Blod clots end O'Brian White's season. A mere home draw to the Portland Timbers. Montero wearing a cast and/or brace and not being potent. By late May things were pretty dire in Sounders land.

Old patterns had to change. The big/small pairing wasn't working. The injuries were forcing different men to get playing time. A former trialist and Mexican league cast-off was growing to become a potent force with the ball at his feet or running down the direct ball and one-time cross into it into danger. If there was one game that showed that the Sounders weren't going to look at those early down notes and accept their lot as a merely average team it was May 28 during a 2-1 road win at Real Salt Lake when players like Lamar Neagle, Mike Fucito and Tyson Wahl climbed out of success on the reserve team to become frequent performers in MLS and ended RSL's record home MLS winning streak.

From that point the fortunes of the Sounders shifted. They went eight league matches without a loss. The US Open Cup defense started during that stretch. And while most teams settle back when they compete in multiple tournaments, the Seattle side hit the accelator and got better in League play. A three-game dent from July 20-30 saw losses in a friendly, league play and the CONCACAF Champions League.

And then August happened. The fortunes of the Sounders were no longer in doubt. Seven wins and one draw in eight matches. Wins were notched in Champions League (beating teams from Panama, Guatemala and Mexico), in the US Open Cup over FC Dallas and in MLS over Kansas City, Dallas and Columbus. September and October had a bit of a fade, but the latter third of the season proved that Sigi Schmid is willing to adapt his tactics, his planned lineup rotations and overcome injuries to put forth a team that does not care where it plays. At home and on the road, it is a team that goes for the win.

If the 2011 season was graphed based on success and expectation it would look like a literary plot graph. These MLS Cup Playoffs are really there to determine whether events like the third straight US Open Cup, qualification for the CCL Quarterfinals and Kasey Keller's retirement game are the climax, or is there something more to this story?

Dave Clark is the managing editor of the Sounders blog Sounder at Heart. Follow him on twitter at @SounderAtHeart.

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