TUKWILA, Wash. — Coming out of a four-day break, the Seattle Sounders held an extended and spiriting training session on Thursday that consisted of various types of drills, including some 11v11 play on a condensed field. The team seemed to be focused on trying to play through the middle with the wide areas brought in considerably from where they would normally be, forcing the attackers to be less reliant on crossing.
The drills helped produce some impressive interplay through the middle, and everyone participating seemed to be playing with the kind of energy you might expect after recharging during a long weekend. It was, perhaps, the only positive to come from a disappointing Leagues Cup performance that the team hopes it can ride to a strong finish over the regular season’s final 10 games.
“It was good for everyone to get a mental break from training,” Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnák said. “We’ve been going since early January and now we have a week to regroup and get ready again.”
Rusnák shared that he went to Disneyland with his wife and two kids (ages 2 and 6), which he half-jokingly said allowed him to get a mental break if not necessarily a physical one. Several other players went to places like Las Vegas and Hawaii.
“It seems like everyone has more energy in training,” Rusnák said. “I feel like the group is happy to be back on the field after a few days off. We understand the position we are in in the league. We see the picture clearly. There are some tough places to go on the road, but we’re good enough to get some results.”
The Sounders are currently fourth in the West, but could quickly move up or down the table in their first two weeks back. They will return to the field on Aug. 20 at home against Atlanta United, then play a rather brutal stretch of three games in a week that includes road matches against Minnesota United and Austin FC before culminating with a home game against the Portland Timbers.
Asked to assess how he feels about the rest of the season, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer replied “I’ll let you know after the first four.”
Potentially bolstering the Sounders in that stretch of games is the likely return of three injured players. Stefan Frei, who missed the Monterrey game with a finger injury, will fully rejoin training this week and is expected to start against Atlanta. Xavier Arreaga, who has been out since late June with a muscle injury, was doing passing and finishing drills with Cristian Roldan (concussion protocol). Schmetzer was hopeful both would be available for Atlanta as well, an especially positive sign for Roldan, who is “trending in the right direction.”
Paul Rothrock making his case
Among those training along with the first-team players was Paul Rothrock, who had missed Wednesday’s Tacoma Defiance game while serving a suspension. Although he was involved ostensibly to make up numbers, Schmetzer seemed to suggest he wouldn’t mind having the midfielder available for games as well. In order to do that, Rothrock would need to sign a full first-team contract, as he’s already used up his short-term loans and scored in all three of his previous Sounders appearances to go along with three goals and five assists with Defiance.
“He scored the winning goal in Houston and then got a concussion, which derailed his opportunity,” Schmetzer said. “He had a good day at training today. He makes things happen for Defiance. His path is not conventional, but the kid makes the most of his opportunities, always works hard. He’s knocking at the door.”
The captain’s armband
Schmetzer announced following the Monterrey match that Nicolás Lodeiro had effectively handed off the captain’s armband to Frei. On Thursday, Schmetzer was asked if that’s changed anything in training.
“Nico still leads by example,” Schmetzer said. “I think it was getting a little pressure off him, let him play free. He wants to focus on his contributions to the team. I thought he had a good performance against Monterrey.”