There’s also the matter of the MLS season home opener against the Chicago Fire, but first things first.
The Sounders returned home having secured two away goals in the first leg of the CCL match in San Pedro Sula, though they let slip a two-goal lead. That said, the Sounders were reasonably satisfied with the performance, given it was their first competitive match of the year coming out of the preseason.
“We wanted to take a win home, [but] two away goals is good, it’s a good achievement,” said Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei. The lack of competitive matches coming into the game was partially responsible for the Sounders not being as sharp in the last 30 minutes of the game, where they surrendered the goals, Frei said. “We saw the last 20-30 minutes, we didn’t find a way to combat that by playing a bit smarter,” Frei said. “I expect us to play better at home and be more in control and take it to them.”
Though losing the two-goal lead was a bit of a disappointment, the Sounders were pleased by and large with the performance, especially the production from Jordan Morris. The Sounders winger factored in both goals, with an assist to newest Designated Player Joao Paulo before scoring himself to give the Sounders the two-goal lead.
With the two away goals in the bank, the Sounders are in a very good position to advance and potentially take advantage of an Olimpia team that will have to score. “We created some good chances,” Morris said. “We can be patient, and we don’t have to score, but we’re going to want to put some in the back of the net to make them have to score a few more.”
The Sounders were also encouraged in how productive they were — given the absence of a few key players. Designated player Nico Lodeiro and midfielder Gustav Svensson were ruled out even before the game with injuries, while midfielder Harry Shipp came down with the flu before the game and didn’t factor. However, Paulo filled in admirably in their absence, notching a goal in his first game with the Sounders. “Really good addition to the team,” Frei said. “His technicality and ability and soccer IQ was evident in minutes. He’s a smart guy, and so everything I’ve seen so far I’ve really liked.”
Though the Sounders will get a full week of training in ahead of the second leg versus Olimpia, they weren’t dealt any particular favors with the schedule of games from Concacaf, having to play on Thursday before a Sunday game. “[I wish] Concacaf had scheduled us for a Tuesday or Wednesday game for a Sunday home opener,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said.
With two games in four days, the Sounders’ depth will be challenged, especially given the injury situation. Both Lodeiro (hamstring) and Svensson (calf) were present at practice, though limited in participation. Their status for the game Thursday is up in the air at this point, according to Schmetzer. “Gustav’s as close as Nico [to returning],” Schmetzer said. “We’ll keep pushing Nico, and we’ll go from there.”
Schmetzer, in his conference call last week, mentioned that the Sounders had identified three potential Tacoma Defiance players for first-team contracts, though he declined to name who they were. He said they’re evaluating the timeline for potentially signing them but that there isn’t an urgent need right now. “The three guys have done well,” Schmetzer said. “We’re not going to rush anything, but if I needed a player, I wouldn’t hesitate to sign a kid if we needed one.”
Schmetzer also noted that John Hutchinson will be overseeing the youth development for players age 16-23. “It’s a work in progress,” Schmetzer said. “We’re trying to figure out how that works with the first-team staff, with the Defiance staff and the academy staff.”
The Sounders annual media day will be on Friday, February 28. The team will hold a press conference featuring Garth Lagerwey, Brian Schmetzer and Chris Henderson, in addition to player interviews ahead of the start of the MLS season.