It’s been a little over two and a half months since the Seattle Sounders took the field last in December’s MLS Cup defeat to Toronto FC. It was a sour end to an extended year that came oh so close to ending with back-to-back MLS crowns.
But, in MLS, success, and near-success, breeds its own set of challenges. Sustained success brings on new opportunity, and that opportunity begins for the Sounders on Thursday following what felt like a brief period away.
“It came fast,” head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “It came really fast. ”
On Thursday, the Sounders will take the field in El Salvador, kickstarting the club’s season and CCL campaign with a visit to Santa Tecla. Traveling abroad in CCL play is always difficult. Doing so with an abbreviated offseason and an extended preseason makes it all the more difficult.
The Sounders, however, feel prepared for the challenge. For the past several years, they have looked towards continuity, and that continuity brings familiarity. A handful of players within this group were there when the Sounders fell to Club America in the 2016 CCL in the club’s last appearance in the region’s premier club competition.
“We know the routine. We still have a few guys that know what we’re about to face, but it’s always different,” Schmetzer said. “It’s exciting, it’s good. I think they’ll be ready.”
“There were some things that I spoke about with the training staff, the coaching staff, the medical staff about the challenges we faced last year, in 2017, early on,” he added. “How do we avoid some of those pitfalls? We certainly discussed those. Soccer is a fluid game. It’s always got different little nuances to it. We’re hoping that our preparation was good, and we’re hoping for a good result in El Salvador. ”
Schmetzer says the club has done its homework heading into Thursday’s match. The coaching staff has watched extensive film on Santa Tecla, Schmetzer said, and several Sounders staff members were there when the club faced FC Dallas in a preseason match February 1. Obviously, it will be different on the field, Schmetzer says, but it’s always good to have foundation.
The Sounders’ foundation heading into this year is build on continuity. To date, the club has signed just six players this offseason. Waylon Francis came in via a trade with Columbus while Magnus Wolff Eikrem, Jordan McCrary and Calle Brown joined for free. Add in Homegrown signing and Handwalla Bwana and MLS Draft pick Alex Roldan and you have what appears to be an offseason focused on adding both youth and depth.
Throughout the week, Schmetzer dropped hints as to what you can expect against Santa Tecla. The Sounders boss says he expects one and maybe two of the Roldan brothers to feature on Thursday. Eikrem, he says, is working his way into the attacking rotation. McCrary, meanwhile, is one of several candidates to get minutes at right back this week with Kelvin Leerdam out.
“It’s going to take them some more time,” Schmetzer said of the new signings. “It took Victor (Rodriguez) some more time last year, although Kelvin was kind of the opposite because he came in and solidified that spot more quickly. If you’re asking about Eikram, McCrary, some of those guys, they’re fitting in.”
Schmetzer says he sees this game and this competition as a reward. It’s a reward for the club’s sustained success over the last few seasons and, for players, its’s a reward for all of the work that went into a quickly-arriving preseason.
Now, it’s about going out and performing while beginning 2018 on a note that leads to more wins, more success and perhaps even more trophies.
“Every competition is important. This has been a stated fact that we want to do well. If you start with the Cascadia Cup and the Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, CONCACAF, where do those rank? You guys can talk about that but they’re all important to us.
“The preparation to this preseason has been based around Champions League, so in that case its important. Every game we play, we want to win. That’s the culture of the club.”