TUKWILA, Wash. — The end of training for the Seattle Sounders was much like any other day. Young players were putting balls away, players rehabbing from injuries were putting in a little extra work (more on that later). The atmosphere was a little different, though, which was to be expected. Former assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda had already said his goodbyes, after accepting the Atlanta United head coaching job. Djimi Traroe, also announced by the Sounders as leaving for other opportunities, was still around, and will remain with the team through the upcoming road trip. But his time, too, is rapidly coming to a close.
“Yesterday was a tough day when it really sinks in, but there was a long enough runway for us that we knew he was going,” Schmetzer said. “They’re too talented of young coaches not to be afforded an opportunity.”
Schmetzer said he expects Pineda to hit the ground running in Atlanta, as an assistant who both played in the league and has extensive experience with the Mexican national team.
“He’s going to get a new coach bump,” Schmetzer said. “When you have Gonzo’s playing career — and it’s the same with Djimi — they have instant street or locker-room credibility. He’s going to have a new voice and players are going to respond.”
All of this means the Sounders are a little shorthanded at a pivotal point in the season, a fact that Schmetzer admitted won’t necessarily be easy.
“We’ll be fine,” he said. “The guys loved Djimi and Gonzo. It is a loss. I have fielded a lot of phone calls about people interested in the job. That job is going to get filled pretty quickly. We’re going to have more quality people in here helping the team.”
Schmetzer said that everyone will pitch in while the search to replace two highly regarded assistants plays out.
“We will fill those positions,” Schmetzer said. “It’s going to be a process, Craig [Waibel] and I are working through some of the names [and] we’ve got a formal interview process in place.”
That said, with the Sounders in the thick of a race for the Western Conference, Supporters’ Shield and Leagues Cup, Schmetzer hopes the process moves quickly.
“Djimi’s leaving after this road trip, so after the road trip I’d love to have another coach,” Schmetzer said. “Henry [Brauner], myself, Preki, Tommy [Dutra], we can manage, but it would be ideal if we would get a guy in after the road trip.”
Beyond the on-field impact, the locker room will feel the loss as well. Midfielder Cristian Roldan said he considered Pineda a mentor. Their playing careers intersected in 2015 when Roldan was a rookie and Pineda was in his final year.
“I remember in a preseason game my first year, and we were roomming together and I had just played my first professional preseason game,” Roldan said. “We stayed up until midnight re-watching the game, and him telling me what I could do better and what aspects of the game I could improve on. From that minute I thought he was going to be a head coach one day.”
Roldan said he had already prepared himself for this day, knowing that Pineda was in line for a head coaching position, so the announcement didn’t come as a surprise to him.
“There were always rumors of him going to different clubs,” Roldan said. “To be honest I said my farewells after the [last year’s MLS Cup] final because you just never know if he’s going to take a job elsewhere. It was expected and when you see rumors with Atlanta, you expect him to take the job because it’s a big club.”
Roldan said he sees some parallels between Pineda’s arrival in Atlanta, and Schmetzer taking over in the aftermath of the firing of Sigi Schmid in 2016.
“Schmetzer didn’t change too much, but he did bring in that new feeling, and Gonzo can do the same thing in Atlanta,” Roldan said. “It’s getting those guys to buy in and do well. We had Nico push extremely well for us and they have a pretty good DP coming in, so I think they’ll be alright.”
- Jordan Morris continues to progress from his ACL reconstruction surgery, joining the team for passing drills. It’s the most team training Morris has done, though Schmetzer cautioned that his timeline remains unchanged. “If we can get Jordan [fully] training again closer to the playoffs, it just raises the level of training,” Schmetzer said.
- Nouhou’s return to the lineup, however, is imminent. Schmetzer said in a radio interview that it was possible the centerback could make the bench for the Portland game on Sunday, and if not, he would likely be back for the midweek match with Dallas. He is scheduled to go through full training on Saturday after being a partial participant on Friday.
- Stefan Frei continues to advance toward a return at the end of the month, at which point Schmetzer said he will have a discussion with Stefan Cleveland about how Frei is reintegrated into the lineup. Cleveland has performed well in Frei’s absence, raising his profile as a potential starting goalkeeper in MLS. “We will talk to Cleveland and find the best path to get Stef reincorporated within the group,” Schmetzer said.
- Nicolas Benezet, one of two acquisitions the Sounders made at the close of the transfer window, was a participant in training. He said he is one or two games away from full fitness, but is ready to contribute if called upon against Portland. “I think I can bring my spirit,” Benezet said after training. “I’m a technical player so I can bring this, and I hope I’m going to go and get some assists. That’s the goal.”