TUKWILA — Although MLS does not generally schedule around international dates as a standard practice, individual teams are given some flexibility in that regard. Historically, the Seattle Sounders have been among the teams most aggressive about trying to avoid games during FIFA windows.
This upcoming window is an exception.
MLS is playing a full schedule of games this weekend, which means quite a few teams are missing multiple players. Nearly 100 MLS players were called into international duty this week, including six from the Sounders. They aren’t even the hardest hit, though, as at least three teams had seven players called away, including Atlanta United who had to sign three players to emergency contracts just to fill out their roster.
“My opinion is, I get it,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said, recalling one window in 2019 where the Sounders had 11 players called in. “We have struggled at times, so we’re used to it. Since MLS plays a little differently than the rest of the world, it creates some headaches, but we’ll deal with it.”
Although the Sounders will have to juggle their lineup, Schmetzer said he’s not intending to make a big deal out of it.
“We have a good squad, we’ll put out a good squad,” he said. “We have a good chance of winning if we play up to our potential. There’s no separate messaging about who we’re missing.”
The Sounders should be hit less hard by future FIFA windows. With the exception of the Concacaf Gold Cup — during which they will play five league matches — the Sounders do not have any games scheduled for the June, September or October windows.
A chance to shine
One player who might be in line to benefit from those absences is Josh Atencio. The midfielder started in the FIFA Club World Cup match but has been limited to just 26 minutes in three appearances off the bench during the regular season.
Atencio’s lack of playing time is more a reflection of João Paulo’s return to fitness than anything else. Schmetzer continues to sing Atencio’s praises.
“He’s got a better feel for the game,” Schmetzer said when asked to compare Atencio’s 2023 to previous seasons. “It comes from experience, his heading has gotten better. That was a key emphasis because he’s a big kid and if he can be dynamic on set pieces, both attacking and defending, that would be a bonus. He’s able to get up and down the field, he’s a good athlete.”
It’s often been suggested that the Sounders should consider moving Atencio to centerback in an effort to get him more minutes, and he has played there some. But Schmetzer remains steadfast in his belief that Atencio is best utilized in the midfield.
“Let’s wait a couple of years before that happens,” Schmetzer said. “He’s got too many good starting points in midfield. I don’t want to start that.”
Another player who could be in line for his first start of the MLS season is Léo Chú. The Brazilian midfielder hasn’t started an MLS game since Aug. 6, 2022, but has been consistently praised by Schmetzer this year and has appeared in all four matches this season.
“His preseason was very good,” Schmetzer said. “He’s earning more minutes, he’s not just going to be given more minutes. That’s a credit to him and his attitude coming into camp.”
While none of them will feature for the first team anytime soon, the absence of so many internationals also created an opportunity for several younger players to get some extra looks. Joining Thursday’s training session were Defiance centerback Elias Katsaros and Academy midfielders Sebastian Gomez, Jack-Ryan Jeremiah and Etienne Veillard.
Schmetzer said the decisions on which players to add to first-team training sessions is mostly made by Defiance head coach Wade Webber and VP of Player Development Henry Brauner.
“There are certain days where it’s up to positional needs,” Schmetzer explained. “But today we had a kid I hadn’t seen before named Seba Gomez. He’s very good. I loved seeing him here, he’s very energetic. The kids all love being out there. It’s always good to have those guys come up and put eyeballs on them.”
- Héber continues to train on the side, but Schmetzer said the forward would likely return to full training next week and is even expected to suit up for the LA Galaxy match on April 1.
- Román Torres will be back in the area on Friday as a member of the MASL’s Dallas Sidekicks, who play the Tacoma Stars at the Showare Center. Asked to recall a favorite Torres memory, Schmetzer talked about the 2016 MLS Cup shootout. Torres was apparently adamant about wanting to be included in the original shootout lineup, but Schmetzer rejected him. When the shootout went to the sixth round, however, Schmetzer relented. “He wasn’t going to let me say no. He was going to take the sixth one for sure.” Torres, of course, converted and clinched the Sounders’ first MLS Cup.