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Sounders training notes: Avoiding the trap

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Sounders well aware of the danger Timbers pose.

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer addresses the press after training Friday
Miki Turner

TUKWILA — Sunday afternoon at Lumen Field promises to be a unique and raucous atmosphere, as the first-of-its-kind OL Reign/Seattle Sounders double-header against their Portland rivals takes center stage.

Of course, there is one way for the air to be let out of the balloon.

In particular, the Portland Timbers will arrive as more than the average wounded animal. After suffering a humiliating home defeat to the Sounders two weeks earlier, the two teams’ respective fortunes have not changed. The Sounders used the momentum to follow up the signature victory with two more road wins, securing their place atop the Western Conference and staying within shouting distance of the Supporters’ Shield-leading New England Revolution.

The Timbers? Well, if a midweek draw on the road against Sporting Kansas City gave them a modicum of confidence, that was summarily taken away on the weekend. They lost their weekend match 3-1 to a pretty bad Austin FC. The one-point-in-three game's performance leaves them on the outside of the playoffs looking in, and a loss to the Sounders Sunday would further dent their chances, to say nothing of their confidence.

Thus, there is scarcely little motivation needed for head coach Giovanni Savarese and the Timbers, even without the chance to ruin the Pacific Northwest Experience.

“It’s kind of a trap game, and that’s kind of the messaging I gave,” Schmetzer said. “We are hosting what is going to be a great event with the Thorns and the Reign and Sounders and Timbers. It’s a celebration of Seattle soccer. And sometimes those big events can be a little bit of a distraction.”

The Sounders, of course, are in a good spot, coming off of a 9-point week and having six players starting in the MLS All-Star squad that defeated the Liga MX counterparts in penalties (1-1 after regulation). Schmetzer said his message this week has centered on making sure the Sounders set aside the distractions, and focus on the task ahead of them, though he acknowledged it can be difficult.

“I think the emotional uptick of a week where we went away from home and got 9 points in seven days — which was a remarkable achievement — it was an emotional week,” Schmetzer said. “It sets you up maybe for a little bit of a letdown. And then you have the 6-2 result, which is obviously going to motivate our opponents.

“My very strong message today was we need to make sure we’re focused on what we need to do against a team who we haven’t had a lot of success at home since 2018.”

The entire team was in training Friday, including all six Sounders All-Stars. Schmetzer said he appreciated that they all started.

“They treated our players very well,” Schmetzer said. “I thought it was a nice touch that all six Sounders got the start. I thought it was very special for the players and the fans.”

More importantly, none went longer than 45 minutes and all returned home with no injuries. The Sounders got something of a bonus out of the game, as Nouhou made his on-field return, going 30 minutes before being subbed out. It was a valuable opportunity that the Sounders missed out on against Columbus, as the game state and substitutions meant they weren't able to get him on the field.

“He was scheduled to get a runout,” Schmetzer said. “Just the way that game manifested itself, I wasn’t able to put Nouhou on the field.”

Notes

  • The Sounders received another piece of good news, as “Young Money” signing Leo Chu has departed Brazil and is expected to arrive in Seattle this weekend. “We’re going to try to get him safely integrated within the group, we’re going to get him up to speed on what we try and do as Seattle Sounders,” Schmetzer said. “Some fans might see him on the field on Sunday. Not playing.” A Sounders spokesman confirmed they expect Chu to be unveiled Sunday before the Timbers match, though there were a few arrangements to be finalized before an official announcement.
  • Schmetzer declined to comment on the reports — confirmed by Sounder at Heart — that Real Salt Lake manager Freddy Juarez had stepped down and is expected to join the Sounders’ staff imminently. “I saw the report, other than that, I think Freddy’s a great coach and I can’t comment on things that aren’t confirmed,” Schmetzer said.
  • Schemtzer did confirm that goalkeeper Stefan Frei has passed all of the tests from his knee injury and subsequent blood clotting issue, though did not comment on whether Frei would make the gameday roster versus the Timbers.