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Sounders prepare for Vancouver with tournament lives on the brink

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Seattle Sounders FC v Chicago Fire FC - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Seattle Sounders have been in do-or-die scenarios before, though not quite like this.

A lackluster set of results thus far in the MLSisBack tournament have left the Sounders with a mere one point in Group B of the Orlando event. Because of how other results have gone thus far, the Sounders chances of advancing are not entirely in their own hands. One thing is for sure: The Sounders will need to win to advance.

To do that, the Sounders will have to show improvement on both sides of the ball, particularly on the offensive end. The Sounders have managed only one goal in the two games, and in the Chicago game in particular had trouble creating many dangerous chances.

Some of that is down to the situation which the players find themselves in, given the pandemic, four-month layoff and shortened ramp-up to the tournament, according to defender Kelvin Leerdam.

“It’s not easy if you have that short of time to figure out everything defensively and offensively,” Leerdam said. “We’re getting close and better and fitter, and in the end if you put in as much work as your opponent, talent will always rise and I’m confident that will happen.”

By this point, though, the Sounders have had two months of training and games, and the situation under which MLS has put on this tournament hasn’t stopped other teams from putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard. That said, Coach Brian Schmetzer said he was mostly pleased with the chances created in the 0-0 draw versus San Jose, but wasn’t satisfied with the offensive performance against Chicago.

“I thought the game against San Jose, we had a couple of half-chances that maybe didn’t show up as real chances, but some of the movements were okay,” Schmetzer said. “In the second game when we messaged possession, I think we went way over on the pendulum. I think we were so focused on possession that maybe we lost sight of the fabric of who we are as a team. We’re going to try to bring it back in the middle.”

Tactics aside, Schmetzer said the weather conditions should provide a bit of a respite for the players. The 10:30 p.m. local start time, while still humid, won’t be nearly the issue it was for the games starting at 9:00 a.m. “Those are the games that teams have been struggling, because even a half-hour into those games, it was hot,” Schmetzer said “So those evening games allow us to play true to our style, and we’ll try to take advantage of that.”

The one goal the Sounders have managed came from homegrown winger Handwalla Bwana, who for one reason or another has had trouble seeing consistent playing time since signing with the team. That is likely to change Sunday, coach Brian Schmetzer hinted.

“Handwalla scored, he’s going to get another chance to score [on Sunday],” Schmetzer said.

Schmetzer doesn’t usually reveal about the starting lineup ahead of the game, but he also decided to confirm that center back Xavier Arreaga would retain his starting slot, on the heels of what could be considered his worst game as a Sounder. Arreaga was at fault for both goals versus Chicago, and was subbed off before the game was over. “He’s starting, I have full confidence in Xavi[er],” Schmetzer said.

NOTES:

  • Two players that will not feature are designated player Joao Paulo and center back Yeimar Andrade. Paulo’s status was up in the air prior to the Chicago game, while Andrade was subbed out of the game. Will Bruin is also unlikely to play.
  • MLS announced a major chance to its expansion timeline, revealing that the entry of Charlotte (2022), Sacramento (2023) and St. Louis (2023) will be delayed by a year. Austin FC will enter the league in 2021 as scheduled. That means there will be an unbalanced schedule for the 2021 season.