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There's schadenfreude for Seattle Sounders' struggles, but reality is MLS stars matter

Sure doesn't seem like there's a mystery as to why the Sounders are sputtering right now.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Sounders are one of the easiest teams to hate around MLS. Besides their fierce rivalry with the Portland Timbers, the sheer size of the fanbase, including support beyond the Seattle area, and the memes built over the years, most famously "We invented _________," and there's plenty of grist for the hate mill.

The Sounders have also never been bad in their MLS history. Besides the expansion sides that entered the league this year, who are too new to really judge, every single other MLS team in history, including the likes of more recent expansion teams Portland, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Montreal Impact have all had bad seasons. In contrast, Seattle has made the playoffs every season to date of their MLS existence, won four U.S. Open Cups, and won a Supporters Shield trophy.

Standards are high, and with high standards comes a fair amount of arrogance on the part of supporters, which of course rubs other fans around the league the wrong way. I get it. I'm not a Sounders hater, but I get it.

The Sounders are currently on one of their worst slides ever in MLS play, losing six of their last eight league games, and crashing out of the Open Cup at the first hurdle. For most of that stretch, they've been without Clint Dempsey, who got suspended from the league for ripping up the referee's notebook in that now-infamous Open Cup loss, and on top of that has been away with the U.S. Men's National Team at the Gold Cup, along with Brad Evans. And then the other major star of the team, Obafemi Martins, got hurt, also during the now incredibly-consequential USOC loss and is gone a sustained stretch.

Not to be captain obvious, but if you're a team with two MLS MVP candidates, then losing both of them simultaneously would hurt any team. That's the point of MVPs -- they are so much more influential and better than the average player when they are playing, so losing them hurts the team overall.

You'll notice a similar trend when the actual reigning MLS MVP, Robbie Keane, got hurt early this season. The LA Galaxy sputtered with him away, going a pedestrian 2-2-3 while he had a groin injury.

And the best players tend to make the players around them better. So there becomes a "rising tide lifts all ships" thought process concerning the rest of the roster: Supporting players look better when complimenting a star, which improves their performances, which tricks everybody into thinking they are simply that good. When the star is (or in the case of the Sounders, the stars are) removed from the equation, and those complementary players aren't winning games on their own, I'm frankly surprised at how often people forget the impact that the best players can really have in soccer, 11 players a side or not.

What does this tell us? Again, not to be obvious, but MLS teams who have the very best players in the league, just like any league in the world, are very dependent on those players. Is there a chance that Martins can come back healthy soon, and Dempsey could return to his club side and the team could still struggle out the rest of the season? Sure, it's possible, but based on the duo's track record, it seems highly unlikely the team will continue to win just two of every eight games. And even through possibly Seattle's worst stretch ever in their MLS history, they gave themselves enough of a cushion in the early part of the season to remain in the playoff positions for the time being. Smart money is on them keeping their playoff streak alive, unless Dempsey and Martins get really hurt for the remainder of the season.

In the end, this bump may provide the rest of MLS some schadenfreude, to watch Seattle go through struggles they and their fanbase are not accustomed to. It can be fun to see some team you don't like find some comeuppance. But the point, in my mind, anyway, is really to reinforce the impact the best players make on their teams, and to note that when those players are missing, it should really be little surprise that the rest of the team can't pick up the slack.

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