Published On: Sun, May 13th, 2018

Is this the beginning of a new era for Seattle Sounders?

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TORONTO – It was a game they shouldn’t have won. The Seattle Sounders were on the road after plodding through a mediocre goalless draw with a short-handed Columbus Crew, and had to face their opponent from the previous two editions of the MLS Cup final. Perhaps with an eye on this Sunday’s spat with the Portland Timbers, Brian Schmetzer made six changes to his lineup for the trip to Toronto FC. Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, and Nicolas Lodeiro didn’t even travel.

“The way we started this season, we really needed three points, and this was probably not one of the games you calculate at the beginning of the season that you’re going to win,” Gustav Svensson told theScore after Wednesday’s shock 2-1 victory at BMO Field. “It’s massive for us.”

The post-match moods couldn’t have been more different. Following the Columbus ennui, Will Bruin complained “everybody in the stadium” knew their gameplan of knocking it to the wing before sending in an innocuous cross. The atmosphere at CenturyLink Field suggested the Sounders had lost. In the wake of the surprise triumph in Canada, there were jubilant and relieved shouts from the away locker room. It wasn’t just a win, but one that offered a glimpse of the club’s next generation.

Handwalla Bwana, a player guilty of not taking on his man and continually knocking the ball backward against Columbus, was excellent. He may have been guilty of more hesitancy when Jay Chapman was able to execute a last-ditch tackle on him in the opening half, but the coolness in how he swept home in the second period belied his 18 years. With the assist, Bruin – an elder statesman at 28 – has been involved in over 71 percent of Seattle’s goals so far this campaign.

Other youngsters displayed nascent skills in the efficient victory. Alex Roldan was introduced in Bwana’s stead after 63 minutes and helped lock down the result; despite his short time on the pitch, only three from the 28 who played on Wednesday out-tackled the 21-year-old. Henry Wingo, 22, also made a nuisance of himself with his adventurous runs and pleasing ball retention. Cristian Roldan, who wore the captain’s armband, is still only 22.

There is reason to be excited about this new generation emerging, and for general manager Garth Lagerwey, it’s just the start.

“Long term, it’s the academy,” Lagerwey told the Nos Audietis podcast earlier this month when asked how the franchise can achieve its goals. “You look at how valuable domestic players have become in a league with only eight foreign spots.”

Lagerwey said the youth setup has made “monstrous strides” since the owners doubled their investment in the department, indicating a strong homegrown core for Seattle sides in the future. Changes are afoot in the first team as well: Dempsey and Alonso aren’t getting any younger, and Lagerwey has promised “an eight-figure investment this summer in a DP.”

With all Designated Player slots currently taken and the restrictive international spots in MLS, Lagerwey will need to do some smart shuffling of this squad to fulfill his pledge. The expectation is that the investment will be made in attack – an obvious need after Jordan Morris‘ long-term injury – and it would be wise if it was a player who could grow with, or aid, the nurturing of talent that is coming through.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

The Sounders could almost be described as a team in a transition period (albeit while trying to meet a target of securing a top-four finish in the Western Conference), but the overriding philosophy implemented during Schmetzer’s long association with the Sounders will stay the same.

“I would say that this club is always a proud club. We always fight, we never give up. Results like this come from that mentality, that type of mindset. It’s within our club,” Schmetzer noted in the guts of BMO Field, before referring to a Seattle legend listening in from the outside of the media scrum. “It’s been like that ever since Kasey Keller’s been here in ’09, and that’ll always be there.”

Cristian Roldan was in agreement after the battling performance: “It was a total team effort. That’s what Sounders soccer is all about.”

There is a tricky juggling game underway with the Sounders: Ushering in a new era, while remaining competitive. The winning mentality is inbuilt in this club, and the fans are expectant – especially when Cascadian bragging rights are at stake in Portland.

“To be able to get three points off this game with the guys that we did … it’s huge,” Cristian Roldan reflected. “Our older guys will come back and be fresh for Portland.”

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