TUKWILA, Wash. — It will be a while before the Seattle Sounders get to sleep in their own beds again. At some point on Friday, the Sounders will take off for Minnesota, and won’t train to Seattle for nearly a week. Even with MLS teams taking charter flights this year, another game on the road next Thursday in Austin means the Sounders will turn around and leave early next week.
When the Sounders get to Minnesota, they’ll find a team itching to finally get one over on them. The Sounders have dominated Minnesota United since Adrian Heath’s side entered MLS, compiling a 7-0-1 record. That includes a 4-0 Sounders win in the season opener and a highly memorable 3-2 victory in the Western Conference final, where the Sounders scored three goals in the last 17 minutes to advance to MLS Cup.
Midfielder Josh Atencio got his first professional start in the 2021 season opener, and said he’s looking forward to the challenge of playing a team that is desperate to break their duck against the Sounders.
“It’s fun to play a team with a chip on their shoulder,” Atencio said. “You know everyone in the league wants to beat us. Every single game we go in and teams are competing as hard as they can. It’s exciting and it’s a great environment, it’s great to learn from playing against a team that really wants to beat us.”
Atencio said the first match was a bit of a whirlwind, and it took him some time to find his bearings in the game.
“It was a good learning experience,” Atencio said. “It was a good adaptation into what being a starter in this league takes. I tried to play my way into the first half and after that, grasp learning about players like [Emmanuel] Reynoso, seeing what they try to do and how I can stop that.”
Atencio figures to see time in the match, given the current state of the Sounders roster. Alex and Cristian Roldan remain away from the team on international duty — both have qualified for the quarterfinals which means they’ll miss at least the next three games — while Nouhou and Shane O’Neill continue to work their way back from injuries. That means the backline will likely see some personnel changes with Kelyn Rowe expected to shif to the right wingback position. Abdoulaye Cissoko could get another start with Nouhou working his way back to fitness.
Fellow centerback Yeimar Gomez Andrade said he’s been impressed with Cissoko’s progress since being thrust into the starting lineup shortly after being signed.
“AB is a very intelligent kid, and he is very attentive,” Yeimar said through a translator. “He listens to what we tell him and he’s always learning on the field.”
Sunday’s matchup is also an opportunity for the Sounders to extend their lead atop the Western Conference standings, as Sporting Kansas City is idle. Given the injuries, absences and worsening schedule congestion, head coach Brian Schmetzer said that his focus is on the next game in front of him.
“We’re managing games in the sense of how do we put the best team out there and win each game,” Schmetzer said. “We’re just trying to field healthy squads for each game. And that’s what we’re focused on.”
- Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and O’Neill were all at training this week as they continue to work their way back from their injuries. Neither Lodeiro nor Morris are close to a return, while O’Neill could be back soon.
- It’s likely the Sounders take advantage of the MLS hardship rule to sign a Tacoma Defiance player. While Nouhou is expected to travel, Alex Roldan’s absence means their roster availability is the same as it was for the Houston Dynamo match where they signed Juan Alvarez on a short term loan.