TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders finished their last training session Monday afternoon at Starfire Sports Complex, meaning that the long wait before the MLS Cup Playoffs begin is nearly over. The Sounders and Real Salt Lake will be the last teams to officially announce their presence in the tournament, ending a 16-day hiatus from the end of the regular season.
“I think the players are ready, I think the fans are ready and us as coaches are ready too,” head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “This particular international break seems like it’s been a long time. Some good games over the weekend gets you excited.”
Given the Sounders’ injury situation, the extra time likely has been more helpful than not, though that depends on whether the injured Sounders can contribute on Tuesday, and how well the team performs on the day, a point which Schmetzer half-joked about during the break.
“If we come out sharp and hungry, I’m going to say yes, it was worthwhile,” Schmetzer said. “If we come out flat and a little disjointed, I’m going to say the break was terrible.”
Schmetzer said he trusts the process that the team has established — and it’s hard to argue they should change it, given the postseason results since he’s taken the helm — so the last couple of days have been more about refinement and going over the details.
“If you watch what happened with Atlanta [against NYCFC], you know they got caught on short corner kick for the first goal,” Schmetzer said .“Some of the guys are taking extra corner kick set piece [defense], going through the marking on our set pieces. We did a little bit more just because it’s the playoffs, but the actual training was the same.”
Raúl Ruidíaz and João Paulo have been in full training since Friday, and even though it’s a win-or-go-home situation Schmetzer says he’ll have to assess — both before and during the game — how effective he thinks they will be, given neither have played a full match since Nov. 1 versus the LA Galaxy. The challenge is weighing the risk of one or more players having to be substituted early, and how many quality minutes each can provide.
“Who we start, how we start, guys coming back from injury, how long can they play [with] some guys on minute restrictions, those are the things that you have to figure out,” Schmetzer said. “How do we shuffle the group around to make sure that everybody plays, and plays effectively without risking injury?”
Schmetzer also confirmed that Nicolás Lodeiro, who returned to training Friday and was absent from the Sounders injury list, could also play a role in the match if called upon. Lodeiro was a full training participant on Monday.
“If you ask him, he says he’s going to be 100% [but] we’ll see about that,” Schmetzer said. “He’ll be on the bench, and I’m not afraid to play him.”
Schmetzer previously said the addition of former Real Salt Lake head coach Fredy Juarez is helpful in gathering insight into their players, if not the tactics that head coach Pablo Mastroeni will use going forward. Thus it’s a good bet the team has spent significant time working on neutralizing Damir Kreilach, the talented Croatian attacker who has given the Sounders trouble in the past.
“You make sure you’re aware of him when he’s inside the penalty box, because he’s very good there,” Schmetzer said. “He scored the goal against us when we lost there [and] he split a seam to get on the end of it.”
Schmetzer said he hasn’t given the players any specific extra messaging about keeping their composure on the field, and the Sounders are typically one of the least carded teams in the league. MLS’s playoff rules for yellow-card accumulation mean that any player with two yellow cards will be suspended in the next game through the Conference Final. Yellow cards reset for MLS Cup, though any player who is sent off in the Conference Final via two yellow cards or a straight red would be suspended for the championship game.
“I don’t care what we have to do, we have to win this game,” Schmetzer said. “The thing that goes season long is always what do you get the yellow card for. Is it for goal celebrations [or] arguing with the referees? That stuff doesn’t fly. Guy has to make a tackle, gets a yellow, okay fine, fair enough. But not stupid yellows.”
- Jimmy Medranda has been listed as questionable, but was not training on Monday.
- Nouhou has been declared out of the match after entering the league’s “health and safety protocol” following his stint with Cameroon for World Cup qualifying.