TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders didn’t have much time to bask in the aftermath of their impressive 2-1 road victory over Sporting Kansas City. Following Tuesday’s training sessions, they were off to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes in an important midweek regular-season matchup.
Still, the mood was upbeat in light of what Sunday’s victory meant for the standings. A loss would have allowed SKC to grasp a firm hold on the top spot in the Western Conference and leave the Sounders level on points with Colorado, who visits Lumen Field this weekend.
The victory allowed the Sounders to exhale — if only a little — and focus on a challenging game with a little wind at their backs, even on short rest.
“There was short rest for a lot of games over the last stretch, but they’re still in good spirits,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “That’s what winning does, puts you in a good mood.”
Although San Jose presents some unique challenges in the way they play, Schmetzer said he was more focused on the physical recovery of the team, coming off two matches in four days, and another game on the weekend after which they’ll have played seven times in 23 days.
“Physical recovery is No. 1,” Schmetzer said. “We’ve played San Jose twice, we know how [Matías] Almeyda likes to play. It’s a good team [and] a challenging team in many ways. But it’s more about the physical recovery.”
Defender Shane O’Neill echoed Schmetzer’s thoughts on scouting San Jose, saying it’s not so much the man-to-man nature of their defending, but some of the intangibles Almeyda is able to bring out of their team.
“I don’t know if it’s the system, more so the culture of the team,” O’Neill said. “Regardless of results, they seem like they’ve got a good, tight-knit group. They’re one of the teams in MLS that regardless of the score, regardless of where they are in the standings, they don’t quit. They’ve got a little bit of a nasty edge to them. Those are things that make it a tough game.”
Given the fixture congestion, there will likely be some squad rotation as Schmetzer tries to manage the roster pending the hopeful return of Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro before the season ends. Injuries to Lodeiro and Nicolas Benezet (hip flexor), as well as some needed rotation, could result in recently signed Leó Chú, making his MLS debut. Schmetzer said Chu has done well in training, but the team is still figuring out how to incorporate him into a lineup that does not typically feature wingers.
“Our formation isn’t set up to really highlight his strengths,” Schmetzer said. “It has to be a specific circumstance when we need a goal or are behind. It’s almost like specific games will be targeted for him. I think he has a chance to play against San Jose because they mark man for man. And we’ll have some guys leaving on international break. Those are some of the things we’re thinking about to incorporate into the group. He’ll get his chance.”
Schmetzer said he doesn’t necessarily see Chú as an option on the inside as a midfielder, but in addition to playing on the wing, he could see some time as a second forward, utilizing his speed to challenge defenders.
“He’s played multiple positions, more so in 4-2-3-1 as a left-sided player,” Schmetzer said “He can play a little 4-4-2, [but] we don’t really play that. Could he play in the house shape (3-5-2)? Maybe not, but if we play with two forwards, could he play up there run around, get in behind people? Sure.”
Wednesday’s match will be the first time the Sounders have traveled to San Jose since the infamous matchup in May, where an injury to Stefan Frei forced the Sounders — who had exhausted all of their substitutions — to put Alex Roldan in goal to see out a 1-0 result.
“It’s such a difficult game going down there,” O’Neill said. “Obviously we got the [win] a couple of months ago. That game was carnage, it was just brutal. Hopefully, we can control possession better this time around, but against them always it’s so difficult. It’s always a dogfight.”
- Schmetzer ruled out Benezet for the San Jose match, and likely the Rapids game on the weekend with a hip flexor issue. “Just happened in training, a little hip flexor jury [and] those can be tricky sometimes,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll miss him, he was good for us.”