The Seattle Sounders have a chance to do something few MLS clubs have been able to accomplish. They can become the fourth back-to-back MLS Cup champions with a win over Toronto FC on Saturday evening, joining D.C. United, the Houston Dynamo, and the LA Galaxy as the only teams to accomplish that feat.
This fact that isn’t lost on anyone in the squad. Starting goalkeeper Stefan Frei knows everyone senses something. “We do sense an opportunity of achieving something big,” he said in a conference call on Tuesday.
And that feeling isn’t anything new. The Sounders have been looking at the chance to repeat since the beginning of the playoffs. “Once we started getting closer to the playoffs, we started bringing up that LA squad that won back-to-back a few years ago and how we actually hold a lot of respect for those squads. It’s a very very difficult feat to accomplish, and here we find ourselves with an opportunity to do something similar. I think the whole squad realizes this is an immense opportunity and we’re very excited at the prospect of having the chance to repeat it.”
Meanwhile, as Frei and his teammates contemplate big achievements and making history, head coach Brian Schmetzer is trying to keep his troops grounded and focused on the task at hand. “I know its out there, but the guys really haven’t been focused on it,” he said during Tuesday’s call. “We as a coaching staff haven’t been focused on it.”
Schmetzer is trying to help the team feed off last year’s mentality that helped them win the club’s first ever league title. The Sounders found themselves near the bottom of the league in the middle of the season, but kept themselves focused on each game as it came up through the regular season and into the playoffs.
“Our mantra last year was we took one game at a time. We had to win pretty much every game for us to make the playoffs. That went through into the playoffs and we got some results and we ended up winning the cup,” he said. “I think some of that has translated into the messaging for this year. I think the coaching staff still believes that we need to view each game as an individual game.”
Schmetzer doesn’t want to talk about history. Whether it’s joining the ranks of back-to-back MLS Cup winners, last year’s final against Toronto, or even on how this year’s playoffs have turned out leading up to this rematch.
“I think some of the statistical stuff that’s out there on social media about our defense, or their record, or their goal difference, and all that, I think it does go away in many aspects.
“I think this is a final and it’s one game and the better team on that day is going to be crowned champions.”
Schmetzer especially doesn’t want to look at last year’s final as any indication on how this year’s match will turn out. Both sides have key differences from last year’s squads, with his side being able to feature Clint Dempsey, who missed the 2016 title game thanks to an irregular heartbeat. They also have mid-season acquisition Victor Rodriguez to man the center of the park.
Toronto will also be healthier than last year. While Jozy Altidore is nursing an ankle injury picked up during the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final against the Columbus Crew, they will have a fully fit Sebastian Giovinco, who couldn’t make it the entire 120 minutes last December. They also have the newly added Victor Vazquez, who has already scored some big goals this playoff season.
But those factors are beyond Seattle’s control. Schmetzer wants his team to focus on the one thing they can affect: “We don’t control the referees… we don’t control what our opponents do… The only people we really can control are ourselves. So the ability to keep a clear mind and make good decisions on the field is something we preach all the time.”
So, yes, making history is out there, and the Sounders have a chance to join an elite group of MLS clubs that have lifted the Cup in consecutive seasons. But Saturday’s match is one game. Schmetzer sees that, and he hopes his players do as well.