SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders transformed a four-match winless streak into a five-match unbeaten streak this week on the back of home wins over the Houston Dynamo and Orlando City SC. The six points, which jumped Seattle up to second in the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings, will serve as a big boost as the Sounders prepare to play a franchise-record four straight road matches, with six of their next seven away from home.
Asked after his team’s victory over Orlando what the wins would do for his team entering the road stretch, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer was brief with his reply.
“We’ve been, traditionally, a good road team,” Schmetzer dead-panned.
Since Schmetzer took over for Sigi Schmid in 2016, the Sounders have posted a 15-17-13 road record. Largely bolstered by the squad’s strong 8-6-3 road record last season, Schmetzer’s Sounders have averaged 1.28 points per road game, compared to a league-wide 0.89 points per away game over the last three seasons. The above-average road numbers, combined with Seattle’s strength at home, have helped fuel the club’s success.
Schmetzer’s team started 2017 2-2-3, despite playing five of their first seven matches on the road. While Seattle eventually finished that season with a 3-8-6 record away from CenturyLink Field, crucial road draws helped the Sounders maintain a 13-match unbeaten streak in the second half of the season, helping spur the club to a second-consecutive MLS Cup appearance.
That Seattle has maintained these numbers in a league that has proven so inhospitable to visitors, particularly given that its geographic location means the team is often among the league’s highest in total mileage, suggests that Schmetzer may have unlocked the secret to keeping his players fresh on the road.
“The physical staff, the training staff, they’re working overtime right now to get the athletes ready to go,” Schmetzer said. “The message from the coaching staff is ‘we have confidence in you.’ We have confidence in all of our players. We have a good team. We’re going to be hard to beat because it’s ingrained into our culture, into our team, into these players: they don’t like to lose. They never quit.
“When we go to Philadelphia it’s going to be tough, we understand that, but there’s no reason why, with MLS as it is, with the parity that there is in MLS, that we can’t roll a team out there and collect points.”
Whether a product of circumstance or part of the plan, Schmetzer has been rewarded this year when digging into his bench. Harry Shipp, Román Torres, Handwalla Bwana, Jordy Delem, Will Bruin, Nouhou and Saad Abdul-Salaam are among the reserves who have all taken turns in the spotlight this year.
Shipp, Torres, Bwana, Delem and Nouhou all had significant roles to play in the Sounders’ last two wins. Those wins have helped alleviate at least some of the pressure ahead of this franchise-record four-game road trip.
“I think our expectation is still to go [to Philadelphia] and get three points,” Shipp said. “Even though they’re a good team, no matter who’s playing for us, I think we’re focused on trying to get maximum points out of every game.
“It’s kind of a nice foundation point for that next stretch of the season. We talk about playing the same way whether it’s home or away in terms of trying to establish tempo, rhythm, possess the ball. I think it’s good practice for the next few games. It’ll be a tough stretch for sure, but the expectation is to keep playing at a high level and keep winning games.”