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Club World Cup trip doubled as team-building exercise

Players were able to bond during the two-week overseas adventure.

Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders returned to Starfire Sports Complex on Thursday for their first training session since getting eliminated from the Club World Cup.

Although the trip to Morocco was a bit shorter than anyone preferred, the general sense was that it was a good experience. Combined with the nearly two weeks the team spent in Marbella, Spain it was also deemed to be a quality team-building exercise that has already shown some signs of paying off.

“I thought we came together as a group on the trip,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “It was good to have dinners together. That’s really when the bonding comes in. You definitely saw that grit and determination in the game. The quality was lacking for sure, but we saw that togetherness on the field. That’s all we can ask for.”

The benefits of playing in the Club World Cup have also shown up before and after the trip.

“Guys are motivated,” Roldan said. “I think the training sessions as a whole are the best they’ve ever been. That’s great to see, it means young guys are going to get better and we’re going to have to compete against each other at a high level which will make our team better. The quality of training is something we have to bring every day but I’m seeing a different attitude on the field from the boys.”

The biggest regret of the trip for Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer was that he “didn’t like coming home early,” and acknowledged that in hindsight he’d like to have played an additional warmup match in the hope “that would have gotten a little rust off the group.” But on balance Schmetzer felt as though there were more positives than negatives from the one meaningful game the Sounders got to play.

Schmetzer was particularly pleased with the Sounders’ quality in the first half in which they outshot Al Ahly 8-1 and generally dictated play. He also liked the way the Sounders employed some of the new tactics coaches have been drilling them on.

One common area of outside criticism was Schmetzer’s reluctance to use offensive substitutes earlier in the match. Through 88 minutes, the only subs Schmetzer had used were inserting João Paulo for Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva for Cristian Roldan.

“We could have changed a couple of guys,” Schmetzer said. “I thought we were going to get it into overtime. I thought we had fresh legs in the midfield, but it just didn’t turn in our favor.”

One change Schmetzer didn’t make was bringing on Léo Chú for Jordan Morris, who only ended up receiving six passes and seemed pretty gassed by the end.

“We can look at that, as he got heavy legs could we have brought in Chú?” Schmetzer asked rhetorically. “Leo will get his chances.”

Roldan’s injury

That one of Schmetzer’s two subs was to remove Roldan seemed a little odd, especially given how rarely the midfielder is subbed out of games. In this case, there was a perfectly valid reason.

“He had some issues with his hip,” Schmetzer said about Roldan. “He had a cortisone injection when he got home. He wasn’t able to do some of the training in Marbella, we had to keep him out. He puts in a ton of work and I thought he was tired at the end.”

Roldan said he thought he could have finished the match, but also seemed to understand the decision.

“The last week prior to the game I wasn’t able to be in full training,” Roldan said. “Fitness becomes a factor when you’re not able to train in full and you miss some reps. I was definitely a little tired chasing that left back around. It was about not trying to have a longterm injury due to playing a few extra minutes. That’s coach’s decision and I’m all for it. I’ll be ready to play 90 minutes in the next game.”

Obed Vargas update

One player who was expected to play in Morocco but didn’t was Obed Vargas. The young midfielder suffered a quad injury while in Spain and did not feature in the preseason games or the Al Ahly match. Vargas was still not training on Thursday.

“He’s a young kid, his recovery will be fast,” Schmetzer said.

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