TUKWILA, Wash. — Not content to simply dispatch of the “slow-start” narrative that has dogged them each of the past three seasons, the Seattle Sounders are hoping to take advantage of a seemingly soft opening to their schedule and ride that to a season that can place them among MLS standard-bearers.
The next step after their first season-opening win since 2015 will be taking care of business against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.
“We’re trying to win every single game because every single game matters,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said, citing the new playoff format as a major motivator. “Why can’t this team be the best Seattle team ever?
“Coaches say this all the time, ‘What’s the objective of the year? Make the playoffs, win MLS Cup.’ I said that in preseason, too. But now let’s challenge them. We have a couple home games to open the year, a good schedule, everybody’s healthy. Why can’t we lead from the front? Why not?”
Although the playoffs will include a record seven teams from each conference, only higher-seeded teams will host matches and the Supporters’ Shield winner will potentially never play away from home all the way through MLS Cup for the first time ever. Perhaps more than in previous years, Schmetzer is preaching the importance of taking advantage of a season-opening schedule that doesn’t feature a 2018 playoff team on the road until Week 8, and just one 2018 playoff team at home before that.
The message has clearly reached the players.
Asked about Schmetzer’s comments, Sounders goalkeeper and vice-captain Stefan Frei went a step further.
“Of course you want to always push further and further and further,” Frei said. “Otherwise what’s the point of being out here? You want to win as many trophies as you can. As an athlete, your time is short and seeing seasons go by wasted where you’re not competing for anything is painful. It’s frustrating. You definitely don’t want that, so why not shoot for the ultimate goal? Records ... set yourself in stone, be part of a team that won’t be forgotten.”
Frei noted that the Sounders are currently trying to become the first team in MLS history to qualify for the playoffs in 11 straight seasons.
“That should be a goal of ours as well and something that gets you fired up,” he said. “I always talked about wanting to be part of that black-and-white picture. Well, here’s another opportunity to potentially stay important or stay remembered long after you hang up those boots.”
While big-picture goals are important, Frei is also keenly aware that the only way the Sounders will achieve them is by winning individual games like this one against the Rapids.
“It’s one thing that I will remind our players before we step onto the field on Saturday,” he said. “This week was enjoyable and it was because we had a ‘W.’ It’s quite simple. You enjoy your food, you enjoy coming to work, you’re smiling and you’re happy, you’re going after it. Life’s good. But you have to earn that every weekend.
“You can’t just sit here and say you want to win MLS Cup — everybody wants to win MLS Cup. You need to set yourself goals for along the road. How do you get there? We want to get there week by week and a strong start is very important for us. We really value that. So far it’s been good. It will be a tough test this weekend, but we want to go for it and we want to achieve our goals.”