Long Sounders FC season has taken a toll on players but they say that won't affect their effort against Galaxy on Sunday. "If you can't get motivated to play in the playoffs then you don't belong here," goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. "Fighting through the pain and all that is what being a pro is all...
TUKWILA — Sounders FC preseason camp started 284 days ago. The season has covered an MLS-high 43 games — 52, if you include friendlies and exhibitions.
Weathered. Traveled. Fatigued. The minutes and injuries have been piling up for 10 months as Seattle has been pushed to the limit in three separate competitions. Weariness is little excuse, however, leading into what could be the last game of the season when Sounders FC faces the top-seeded Los Angeles Galaxy in the second leg of a Western Conference semifinal at 6 p.m. Sunday.
“Our season is on the line, so guys are going to play with a broken leg or whatever,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani, whose team lost the first leg 1-0 at home. “You go out and do it; it’s that important. It has been a long year, but we don’t want it to end. We want it to be at least three more games.”
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In the middle of maintaining the team’s fitness is fitness coach David Tenney, who has taken the lead on maximizing performance and recovery through the crowded schedule.
A change in the recent practice schedule is just the newest challenge.
Having a full week of training to prepare for one playoff game, Tenney said, has been equally a shock to the system and a benefit. Sounders FC routines and the players’ bodies were used to the regular cycle of playing in and recovering from two games a week.
“These guys are creature of habit and rhythm,” Tenney said, “so all of a sudden hammering them with five to six days of intense training in a row would be counterproductive. We’ve had to manage that.”
Tenney’s approach has been simulating game-day work in training early in the week — Wednesday’s training, in particular, went more than an hour longer than scheduled. The rest of the week is focused on regeneration and pregame preparation.
“From a logic standpoint we’re not really going to make huge fitness gains at this point in the season,” Tenney said. “If you push them hard now, you are more likely to fatigue the entire team than get a benefit.”
The heavy workload is a burden that comes from success. Early losses in the U.S. Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League would’ve cleared up the schedule, but letting up is not Sounders FC’s style.
Other teams might have taken a different approach.
“Talking to some of the L.A. players, friends of mine, they said it was kind of a blessing in disguise for them getting knocked out of the Champions League as early as they did and not having that travel and play those extra six games,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said.
But the impetus in overcoming aches and pains for Sunday won’t be hard for Seattle’s players. In fact, they welcome a couple more weeks of it.
“If you can’t get motivated to play in the playoffs, then you don’t belong here,” Keller said. “Fighting through the pain and all that is what being a pro is all about.”
Added Tenney, with a smile: “Everyone recovers a lot better when you’re winning.”
• According to a report from Argentina, the country’s national team will come to Seattle in March for an international friendly against the United States. There is no official confirmation of the match yet.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org