TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders returned to training at Starfire Wednesday to continue preparations for the last — and biggest — match of the season, possibly in franchise history. The session itself was spirited and intense, certainly not a surprise with a MLS Cup at stake. Given what is to come over the next three days, the team will need to take every opportunity to prepare itself for Sunday’s match against Toronto FC.
That’s because starting on Thursday, the pomp and circumstance of MLS Cup starts to take really over. While the MLS Cup trophy made an appearance on Tuesday, the league — and national media—have yet to descend on Seattle en mass. That changes starting tomorrow, and with that, the media, marketing and sponsor obligations start to take over, which means an increase in distractions for the team. As one might imagine, the messaging from the team is to keep things as normal as possible.
“After we realized we were going to play at home, we got the emotions out of the way the last few days,” left back Brad Smith said. “But now this week we’re just focused on training, normal game week and just preparing as normal.”
“We had a meeting before training to keep it normal, do what we normally do. It’s another game, one more game and we win the big trophy. We’re ready to go.”
Coach Brian Schmetzer conceded it keeping the buildup completely normal will be almost impossible, but believes the team will be able to deal with the inevitable distractions and obligations.
“It’s not normal because of the amount of people,” Schmetzer said surveying a group of media that was already about double that of any normal session. “We’re going to try to make it as normal as possible. We understand that this is part of our job, this is a big event, a big game. We’re doing what we can to minimize some of the distractions.”
The Sounders of course have experience playing in MLS Cup with the 2019 game being their third in four years. But with this edition being in Seattle, there are certain benefits that the Sounders will be experiencing for the first time.
“I think this [being at home] might help for some players,” midfielder Gustav Svensson. “Especially the younger players [to] be at home, see their family, talk about normal stuff. You don’t need to motivate yourself too much for this game.”
One of the early talking points from the week is the status of Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore, who has been nursing a quad injury. Altidore said in an interview on Monday that it would take a “miracle” for him to play. Schmetzer said that while he doesn’t think counterpart Greg Vanney is toying with the Sounders, he will prepare his team for either scenario. “It’s not mindgames because Greg’s a good guy,” Schmetzer said. “Whether Jozy plays or not we’ll be prepared. I’m suspecting he’s going to be involved in some way.”
If Altidore can’t go, the Sounders know they’ll have to account for TFC’s other dynamic DP Alejandro Pozuelo, who has been deployed as a “false 9” in the TFC formation and has been effective in that role.
“We’ve kind of looked at it from a team perspective,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll make sure the individual players get enough film on Pozuelo, his movements his style. We’ll make adjustments as needed.”
All players were present and involved in training, and Schmetzer indicated that everyone is ready to play, with the exception of Will Bruin (ACL). ... Both Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Danny Leyva were in training, having returned from U-17 World Cup duty. The U-17’s failed to qualify out of their group to the knockout stage. ... Don Garber’s State of the League Address and press conference is Friday. ... The MLS Player’s Association will hold a conference call on Thursday to address the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. The current CBA expires Jan. 31, 2020.