TUKWILA — The first “dead-rubber” week in Seattle Sounders history has been surprisingly ... normal. There have definitely been some changes — the team has no plans to do a collective video session about the last game against Sporting KC the way they normally would and there’s less focus on tactics — but the mood was generally positive with players seeming to enjoy themselves just as much as ever.
The decision by the coaching staff to focus on mini-games seems to be working as planned.
“Today’s training was tailor-made for competition, trying to up the level of intensity and competitiveness,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei told reporters. “It should suck when you lose. It doesn’t matter if you play well or bad. It’s the same thing that crazy good players say ‘I don’t want to lose a game of Monopoly.’ Training is the same thing. Anything we do, we do it to win. We’re horrible Monopoly players. On the practice field here, we really need to instill that. When you’re doing it and you see your opponent is doing it too, it’s a really satisfying feeling when you come out on top.”
Left unsaid was the sense that maybe the Sounders were lacking a little of that competitive fire, at least in the loss to Sporting KC that effectively ended their season. The Sounders managed just one shot in the final 15 minutes while trailing by a goal in a game that could have saved their season.
One of the messages this week has been that the Sounders are committed to not letting that happen again in the season finale against the San Jose Earthquakes. Although there are literally no playoff implications for either team, Frei wants to at least send fans home with a positive feeling.
“I think for the majority, they know there’s some weight to it for ourselves, everything you represent,” he said. “This game is important. Whoever is going to be on the pitch needs to be prepared.”
Ruidíaz could miss season finale
After missing the Sporting KC match with an ankle injury, the Sounders were at least a little hopeful that Raúl Ruidíaz could return for the season finale. That may not happen.
“I know he’s motivated to try to get out there. It might be a long shot, but he’s trying,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Vargas takes positive steps
It has been about four months since Obed Vargas last played due to a stress fracture in his back. Originally billed as a “multi-week” recovery, the Sounders have opted to give the 17-year-old ample rest. On Thursday, Vargas took his first visible steps toward a return when he was able to jog around the training field.
Although there’s been no clear timeline given on Vargas, Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey did say that they are hopeful he’ll be ready for the start of the 2023 season.