TUKWILA, Wash. — On the heels of another disappointing home result, the Sounders returned to training Monday at Starfire to start preparations for arguably the most daunting stretch of the season. Only able to obtain four points from their last four — which includes just one point from three at home — the Sounders will now go on the road for three consecutive road games against Western Conference opponents. While results in other matches went the Sounders’ way allowing them to stay in second place, the floor has been raised, meaning a series of bad results could see them hurtling toward the playoff line, or even below it.
That ominous realization aside, the team looked to be in reasonably good spirits at practice, helped by some competitive team drills which the players were itching to win to prove their superiority — and avoid pushups for losing. Some even featured ethically questionable tactics, including Nico Lodiero kicking a ball away from Cristian Roldan before a particular drill started. The exercise seemed to help the mood, as did a motivational speech from Damien Roden before training started in earnest.
“The mentality of the group is strong, and they know when it’s a work day and they know when they can have some fun,” Schmetzer said. “On a day like today where we weren’t going to get much out of them, let’s let them have some fun. Kick the ball around, competing against each other, all of that sort of stuff prepares us for a good week.”
On the decision to have Roden address the group, Schmetzer said it is “critical” to get the other coaches involved, noting that assists Preki, Gonzalo Pineda and Djimi Traore did the bulk of the talking.
“I didn’t say a word the entire training,” he said. “Preki, Gonzo, Djimi did all of the soccer work, Damien did all of the warmup work.”
Cristian Roldan agreed that competitions like the one today are helpful in preparing the team for the games ahead, especially coming off a disappointing run of matches at home.
“You always have to remember to be positive,” Roldan said. “The positive is that we’re still in second place after three home matches in a row that haven’t gone our way. You can think to yourself and say ‘well if we took advantage of those opportunities, we would be in a very good spot,’ but the reality is we didn’t and we can’t look aback at that past and you have to enjoy every moment you’re out here with the team and be positive you’ll get the next result.”
With two games in short succession, Schmetzer hinted at some squad rotation, given some players are still working them back from injury. “Jordan’s [Morris] at risk; his last injury came on a Saturday-Wednesday, Raul [Ruidiaz] that was his first 90 minutes back so maybe one of these young kids is going to play,” Schmetzer said.
Looking back at the game versus New England, Schmetzer conceded their defensive focus last week during training didn’t bear fruit and attributed much of it to issues marking players and going after the ball when it is crossed into dangerous areas.
“Those guys have to be strong enough to fight through things, and once the ball is in flight, you are attacking the ball,” Schmetzer said. “Or if you can’t get to the ball, then you are making sure your body is up against your opponent so he can’t get a clean header on goal.”
Schmetzer declined to criticize the referee’s decision to award a penalty on the tying goal, and said the failure to prevent the ball getting into the penalty box was the primary issue. “You cannot let teams get in behind you when you’re winning 3-2,” he said.
Gustav Svensson and Kelvin Leerdam made it through practice with no apparent issues, and Schmetzer said both players are available for selection for both games this week. ... Brad Smith was not in training, and while Schmetzer didn’t elaborate, it doesn’t appear he’ll be available for Wednesday’s game at least. Smith has missed the last two matches after being forced out before halftime against the Houston Dynamo. ... Newly acquired Luis Silva is likely to be available for selection, but there’s been no update on Emanuel Cecchini’s status nor how the Sounders intend to open up an international roster spot. ... Schmetzer briefly addressed the transfer of Henry Wingo to Molde. “I think the timing was right,” Schmetzer said. “He’d been here for four years, and I think it’s a win-win.”