In the second segment of our three-part Question of the Day series with Sounder at Heart, we asked Dave Clark to explain what elements beyond the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro inspired their dramatic mid-season turnaround.
You can find our first question - on Seattle’s playing style and how it might match up against Toronto’s - at this link and Sounder at Heart’s first question for us - on stopping Sebastian Giovinco - right here.
WAKING THE RED: Beyond the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro, what were the biggest factors in the Sounders' transformation from the first half of the season to the second?
DAVE CLARK: Adding Nico is a big deal, but the turnaround is not just about the Uruguayan.
The coaching change was a huge moment. While Sigi Schmid is one of the greatest coaches to grace the sidelines in MLS, it was apparent that a few players had quit on him. The 4-2 loss to the LA Galaxy in the Open Cup and then a 3-0 loss to Sporting KC looked like the end of any chance at a trophy. In came Brian Schmetzer, the former first-assistant coach. While a hopeful fan could think that he would be a decent caretaker, he was much more.
Schmetzer not only convinced the team to believe in themselves again, he gave them responsibility for their performance. He would not permit them to point a finger at others. The players, more than anyone else, would be responsible for success. They accepted that responsibility.
He then put even more pressure on old veterans. Rarely would Schmetzer point to a youngster on the bench and elevate them. In a situation where the team had to essentially win every match or it might as well go young and plan for 2017, he went old and won. Then he kept winning and won some more. Eventually the Sounders went from ninth in the West to fourth in the West. There was a brief period when it looked like they could get a first-round bye.
Yes, Lodeiro was a part of this. Schmetzer was a part of this. Two others added to the turnaround.
Roman Torres came back from an ACL injury. Prior to blowing his knee the Panamanian could be considered one of the top five or six centre-backs in MLS. Already with a good defence, the Sounders got even better. This also meant that Brad Evans could go back to being a flex player, and it would take two injuries to put Zach Scott into the starting lineup. That is serious depth at centre-back.
The other addition was the return of Alvaro Fernandez. Way back in 2011, Flaco was the scoring threat that started after Steve Zakuani's leg was brutally broken by Brian Mullan. But now Fernandez is not a scoring threat. He is a master of possession, a good aerial winner and strangely became a capable defender as he aged. Alvaro will almost certainly not be a starter in 2017, but the depth he offers on the flank or in the centre is quite valuable; plus, he and Lodeiro are friends who played together with Nacional and Uruguay. That psychological benefit is hard to judge, but shouldn't be ignored.
Lodeiro gets all the attention, but if any one of these other three things didn't happen it all falls apart. A team doesn't go 12-3-4 during the stretch run and playoffs without a near perfect storm. This was that. It took Lodeiro, Torres, Fernandez and the whole team believing in Brian Schmetzer. That's what it will take on Saturday too.