TUKWILA — In an effort to shake things up for a variety of reasons, the Seattle Sounders have tweaked training sessions a bit this week by ramping up the intensity and dialing back the duration.
The move is designed both to keep things fresh in a season that has already featured 29 competitive matches and to hopefully shake the Sounders out of a funk that has seen them lose three straight and 4 of their past 5 matches.
The change is somewhat subtle, but that could be the difference.
“It starts here in training,” Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnák told the media. “When you’re on a roll, it’s a lot easier to go into the next game with confidence. We don’t have any of it. We’re going to have to grind out a win and the grind starts here in training. We have to give a lot more effort, have to have more quality on the field, we have to improve on every aspect of the game from our last game.”
The good news is that the Sounders have been in similar positions before and managed to pull out of their tailspin just about every time. The Sounders last had a three-game losing streak in 2019 — which was also part of a run of form that saw them lose 4 of 5 and happened around this time of year. They closed out that season on an 8-3-3 regular-season run that carried them to an MLS Cup victory.
While that may be somewhat comforting, it doesn’t diminish the challenge.
“Each year is different,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said following Wednesday’s training session. “It’s not automatic that when we’re in a rut we’re going to come out of it. It requires hard work, it requires dedication, good coaching, and everyone participating. That is an overall club thing. We need to get back to some of the basics to get those right.”
Among those little things are being less predictable in the attack, cutting down on the silly defensive errors and being more secure with the ball. They all sound basic enough, but that also speaks to the fine margins that turn 1-0 losses into 1-0 wins.
Now, they need to go out and execute.
“Everyone is disappointed,” Rusnák said. “It kills me inside to lose three games in a row, to lose to your rival, to go on a road trip and not get a point.
“At the same time, I know I can’t take those games back. Those games are gone. We can’t be all moody, all sad and grumpy, but we can’t change the result in Chicago, that’s not coming back. We can only look in front of us, that’s the reality. The short-term memory is sometimes the best thing for a professional athlete.”
Injury Prevention Protocol
One of the mantras of 2021 was the Sounders’ belief that they’d be able to contend for an MLS Cup if they could get mostly healthy. Despite their best efforts, that never happened and they suffered their earliest-ever playoff exit.
In response to that, the Sounders created something they dubbed the “injury prevention protocol.” Talking to Sounders Weekly on Tuesday, GM Garth Lagerwey credited that policy with getting the team healthy in time for the final push toward the Concacaf Champions League title.
Lagerwey also said that policy is what will likely lead the Sounders to bringing back Raúl Ruidíaz a bit slower after he suffered his fourth hamstring injury in less than a year, albeit to the opposite leg than his previous injury.
“I don’t expect him this weekend, that’s fair to say,” Lagerwey said. “Just as we did with Nico and even Yeimar, we have to be methodical with these guys, we have to build them up. When Raúl gets to the point he can come back, it will be in a more limited capacity. We’ll be more cautious. We can’t have anymore re-injuries.
“We need to be judicious and be confident. We have a good group, plenty of talent, plenty of depth and we can be flexible. We just have to be patient with Raúl. If we do that, we’ll be tough to beat.”
Frei returns to training
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei was a somewhat surprising omission from last week’s games after entering health and safety protocols. Apparently, Frei’s positive Covid-19 test came after the team arrived in Nashville, meaning he had no option other than to rent a car and drive back to Seattle.
“He is back and ready to go,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told KJR. “That was just a drag.”