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Sounders turn focus to league play

Brian Schmetzer: “We need to start collecting points.”

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

TUKWILA — Brian Schmetzer is fond of saying that the most important game is whatever game is next on the schedule and that the Seattle Sounders’ goal is to always win every competition they enter. In that sense, failing to advance in the U.S. Open Cup for a third straight year must be considered a failure.

There was a silver lining, however. The Sounders can now be laser-focused on the MLS regular season. So far, things haven’t been going quite according to plan there.

“Obviously, we accomplished something massive in winning Champions League, and an we had an unfortunate result in the Open Cup,” Jordan Morris told reporters on Friday. “We wanted to try to win that as well. Now the focus is on climbing the table. We’re not where we want to be but our whole focus is having a good regular season and trying to win MLS Cup. I think we definitely celebrated the win but we’re even hungrier now to go win MLS Cup.”

Through eight games, the Sounders are tied for the fewest points in the entire league and their .88 points per game are better than just two teams. With 26 games left to play, there is lots of time to improve but the Sounders are well aware that they need to start turning things around.

“Our message this morning was about reality,” Schmetzer said. “I actually put up a slide about where we are in the standings. That is the reality. We need to start collecting points. How we do it, when we do it, against whom we do it, we had better be prepared to win a few more and lose less often.”

The next opportunity comes on Sunday when the Sounders host Minnesota United. The Sounders boast a 6-0-0 record against Minnesota at Lumen Field and won their previous road encounter this year 2-1. Minnesota sits seventh in the Western Conference, and is riding a two-game losing streak.

“We know we’re better than where we are but we put a huge emphasis on Champions League and that had an impact,” Morris said. “We have to get three points and get the season back on track. It starts this weekend.”

Managing life without João Paulo

A little more than a week after the Sounders learned that João Paulo would be out for the year, the reality of the situation has started to settle in a bit more. Schmetzer reiterated past statements that he felt confident that the Sounders had players capable of helping to fill that void, but also acknowledged that it’s one that will needed to be filled collectively.

In addition to spreading around João Paulo’s minutes to players like Obed Vargas, Josh Atencio, Daniel Leyva and Kelyn Rowe, Schmetzer said others will need to raise their game the way they did against Pumas.

“The plan is to give guys the opportunity,” he said. “It’s going to be on a rotating basis. How do we replace a guy who was in consideration for league MVP? It’s not going to be easy.

“We have a senior enough group that missing JP is a lot but it’s not the end of the world either.”

Open Cup oversight

One notable name left off the teamsheet for the Open Cup game was Alfonso Ocampo Chavez. Although he’s signed to a first-team contract, Ocampo-Chavez hasn’t actually played for them since 2019 and has trained almost exclusively with Tacoma Defiance since then.

Still just 20 years old, Ocampo-Chavez appears to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Ocampo-Chavez leads MLS Next Pro with six goals, already equalling his career-high he had with Defiance in 2019.

Schmetzer said leaving Ocampo-Chavez off the Open Cup roster was an “oversight” and implied that the California native would have been included in future rosters if the Sounders had advanced in the tournament.

“He’s been playing well, but I needed to bring him into the group first,” Schmetzer said. “I needed him to train with the group. I thought it was a little unfair to the guys who have been training all the time. So what we did is we started with Fonz is he’ll join the first team in a few more training sessions.

“He has done well at that level. If he continues to play well, we’ll bring him in more.”

Injury updates

The Sounders got some good news ahead of the match as Xavier Arreaga has been cleared from concussion protocols. Although he was allowed to finish the match, Arreaga likely suffered the concussion around the 50th minute of the CCL final. He missed the Sounders’ last two games, but was a full participant in Friday’s session.

Unfortunately, Arreaga’s return coincides with the temporary loss of Jackson Ragen, who was placed in the league’s health and safety protocol. That classification can mean a variety of things but most often means the player has tested positive for Covid-19.

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