TUKWILA — It took a while, but the Seattle Sounders finally got confirmation of their participation in the Club World Cup, their reward for winning the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.
The fall edition of 2022 World Cup, combined with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic conspired to make it unclear whether the event would even be held, which would have been a cruel fate, particularly for the Sounders, being the first Major League Soccer side to feature in the event. But the tournament has been confirmed, and the Sounders started training Saturday excited about the opportunity ahead of them.
To that end, head coach Brian Schmetzer said the offseason plan for the players was a bit different, knowing that they will have only three weeks of training before they head off to Spain for some exhibition games ahead of their Club World Cup opener on Feb. 4. But he was also pleased with how the players came into camp, given the short timeline.
“We gave them individual, specific programs for them in the offseason to follow because we knew we had a shorter ramp-up,” Schmetzer said. “The physical preparation has been very good. The team is fitter than they were coming in last year. Now you have to fast-forward to real exercises, real drills, real fitness.”
While acknowledging trade-offs, Schmetzer said the players are looking forward to the opportunity to test themselves against some of the world’s elite clubs.
“The players themselves are excited for this,” Schmetzer said. “They love the fact that they have the opportunity to be on a world’s stage. This is an opportunity for us to win that first game and who knows who we’re going to end up playing.”
Jordan Morris, who recently competed in the men’s World Cup with the United States and recently returned from a delayed honeymoon, said the players took the offseason training plans seriously as they start the sprint to get ready for the Club World Cup.
“You’ve got to get there quicker,” Morris said. “You’ve got to get to that level to play in a meaningful game a lot earlier than normal. You were expected to come in great shape and I think all the guys did that and now it’s just a focus on building over the next month.”
Excitement aside, the timing of the tournament is far from optimal for the Sounders. Though MLS teams involved in international tournaments like Champions League are used to short preseasons, the training period for the Club World Cup is short even by those standards. General Manager Craig Waibel said that is likely to be the biggest issue as the Sounders prepare.
“The biggest challenge is that we have only four weeks to prepare for an official match,” Waibel said. “The players were remarkably responsible this offseason. Our performance staff [and] training staff did an amazing job with our group.”
Waibel said that while the front office is looking to see where they can add, the core of the team that will feature at the event in a month is basically set.
“I think we do have enough talent to compete,” Waibel said. “I’m not going to make an absurd statement that if we were to advance and play Real Madrid that we are going to match up man-for-man, but at the same time, we like our group and we’re going to look to add, because that’s our job.
“But from the group you see today, that will be the core we see in a month.”