Sounders relishing meaning, opportunity at Club World Cup

Feb 1, 2023, 1:48 PM | Updated: Feb 4, 2023, 12:35 pm
Nicolás Lodeiro #10 and Albert Rusnák #11 celebrate a goal by Raúl Ruidíaz #9 of Seattle Sounders against Pumas in the second half during 2022 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Final Leg 2 at Lumen Field on May 04, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) — Maybe it’s because he was raised in Seattle, played for the Sounders and later coached the club when it competed in the lower levels of American soccer that Brian Schmetzer is almost giddy at the prospects of what the next couple of weeks could bring.

His club, the one born in 1974 and part of his professional life since 1980, could end up sharing the field with one of the most storied soccer clubs in the world for a match with meaning and not just as a showcase to sell some tickets.

“Let’s say we get past our first opponent. We could be playing Real Madrid in a competitive match. I mean, that would be just mind blowing,” Schmetzer said.

Seattle’s participation in the Club World Cup in Morocco marks the United States finally taking part in one of the showcase international events. Seattle is the first Major League Soccer franchise to participate in the event, the result of winning the CONCACAF Champions League title last May. They’re only the second team from outside of Mexico to represent CONCACAF in the event, joining Costa Rican club Saprissa back in 2005.

Seattle is taking great pride in being the first MLS club to participate in the event, especially since the Sounders have championed competing for trophies on the domestic and international stage. But pride and determination can only go so far when the event is taking place during what normally would be the middle of MLS preseason camp filled with friendlies and training sessions.

“Look, in a perfect world I would love to be middle of the season and feeling great and fit, but the reality is we had four weeks to prepare for this game,” Seattle midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “We’re kind of playing the cards that we’ve been dealt and that’s kind of our mentality. We don’t have any excuses going into this game.”

When Seattle takes the field on Saturday in Tangier against Al Ahly, 118 days will have elapsed since the Sounders last played a competitive match. Several of their players took part in the men’s World Cup, but for the vast majority Seattle’s first match in the event will be their first competitive match in 3½ months.

That’s not an optimal scenario for top performance no matter how intense and stringent the offseason workout plans were.

“The timing certainly allows you to do different things. A compressed schedule, yes, you have to be cognizant of their load and again, the injury (concern),” Schmetzer said. “But the players themselves are excited for this. I mean, they are talking about it. They love the fact that they have an opportunity to be on a world stage.”

Schmetzer and the technical staff leaned heavily on several other areas of the front office to prepare for the event. The performance staff, headed by Sean Muldoon, created offseason programs for all players expected to play in Morocco — both the handful that were in Qatar at the World Cup and those who were not. It required self-discipline to follow through with what was being asked during a time that would in a typical offseason be used for some level of rest and recovery.

Additionally, there was an operations challenge for the Sounders, especially with the uncertainty of where the tournament was going to be played. Grant Clark has overseen operations as the team administration director for the Sounders for more than a decade. And while trips to various places in Central America and the Caribbean have posed challenges in the past, pulling together a preseason camp on short noticed ranked high in degree of difficulty.

Seattle learned in mid-December the tournament would be played in Morocco, starting the domino effect of putting several months of varied contingency plans into one direct action.

“They all pose challenges,” Clark said. “Normally in a normal preseason, even preparing for one international camp is a big challenge. This is like on steroids.”

The Sounders relocated their training camp to Marbella, Spain, joining several other clubs from around Europe and North America who were using the southern Spanish vacation mecca as a base for preseason or midseason camps. And while the club had to endure a truncated preseason, it didn’t dampen the excitement about the meaning of playing in the event.

“We’re really excited to represent Seattle, to represent the U.S. on that world stage and kind of show that the quality of this team,” Seattle forward Jordan Morris said, “and the quality of the league.”

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