TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders began preparations for the revamped MLS Cup Playoffs Wednesday, returning to training after securing the second seed (4th overall) with their 1-0 over Minnesota United.
The 2019 version of the playoffs starts Oct. 19 and runs straight through MLS Cup on Nov. 10. MLS announced a condensed playoff schedule last December to attempt to deal with the lost momentum of the November international break interrupting the playoffs.
The new schedule means that the October international break provides a two-week break before the playoffs begin. Thus, Wednesday’s training session didn’t feature eight first team members, with those players having dispersed around the world to be with their respective national teams. With some players having games scheduled as last as Oct. 15, the earliest the Sounders will have everyone back is next Wednesday.
Every other healthy body was at training, however. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that included midfielder Victor Rodriguez — diagnosed with an oblique injury — though he was working on the side. He looked relatively mobile during his workout, as he works to recover from his latest injury.
“They’ll fit him with a flak jacket,” head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “He just needs to figure out his pain tolerance, and then he’ll play.”
With the two-week break, Schmetzer took some time to reflect on the season of the whole, indicating he was reasonably satisfied with the team’s standing (56 points), given that LAFC ran away with the Supporter’s Shield (MLS record 72 points).
“We discussed it this morning in our team film,” Schmetzer said. “For us to come in second which gives us the best chance to get two home games if we continue to win...I’m very happy and proud of those guys.”
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei noted as well that the team was in a “decent position,” but didn’t want to look back quite yet at the season.
“I think it’s too early to look back at the whole picture,” Frei said. “There’s really no time to look back and lament what we’ve missed and praise what we’ve succeeded in. The job’s not done.”
Regarding the new playoff format, Frei was a bit circumspect about the changes, saying he liked having the home-and-home series, though he appreciates the importance of getting a high seed.
“Overall I think it’s a positive,” Frei said. “I still wish there was a home and away, but really it emphasizes how you do during the season. I think it makes it more important so I really appreciate that aspect of it.”
Schmetzer said that he has messaged the team about the changes, given that one bad performance could see the team’s season end with no chance to make up any deficit in a subsequent game.
“I warned the players, it’s different this year. I think they all knew but I just wanted to make sure we reestablished our goals,” Schmetzer said. “Our goal is MLS Cup. It’s four games, it’s single elimination. If you don’t play well in that one game, you’re going home.”
Midfielder Nicholas Lodeiro was fully involved in training today, appearing none the worse for wear after coming off in the latter stages of the game versus Minnesota United with what Schmetzer described as cramps. ... The U-17 World Cup roster is expected to be announced on Thursday with several Seattle Sounders first team and academy players in consideration.