Ultimately this was just soccer. Not playing a healthy Russell Wilson or Robinson Cano in the first game of the season would be insane. Not playing Clint Dempsey was normal.
He held out Clint Dempsey. Benched Chad Marshall, too. Then at halftime, he subbed Roman Torres out and subbed Magnus Wolff Eikrem in.
In Sunday’s season opener, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer rolled out an exhibition-level lineup for the 40,070 ticket-buying fans. And it was absolutely the right decision.
If there is anything we can all agree upon, it’s that soccer is weird. Teams play in multiple leagues, participate in midseason tournaments and generally confuse the hell out of your average Dorito-crunching American sports fan.
It might seem odd that a coach would rest so many players for the season opener — a highly anticipated day in most other sports — but considering the Sounders will soon play their third game in six days, Schmetzer had to. Right now, the team has bigger priorities.
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Wednesday, the Sounders will take on CD Guadalajara of the Mexican League in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Only once has Seattle advanced beyond the quarters, and it has never reached the final.
The MLS Cup may be the pinnacle of American soccer, but there’s a strong case to be made that a Champions League title is a more prestigious prize. Especially since no MLS team has won it since it was rebooted in 2008.
For the Dorito crunchers, the Champions League is an annual 16-team knockout tournament involving club teams from North and Central America. Participants have to be champions of some sort — whether that be via a league title, the Supporters Shield (regular-season points winner) or another tournament championship.
The winner advances to the FIFA World Club championship, which has included soccer superpowers such as Manchester United and Real Madrid. As Will Ferrell, who was at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, might say — it’s kind of a big deal.
The downside to this, of course, are duds like Sunday. The Sounders lost 1-0 to the Los Angeles Football Club, an expansion team playing its first match.
The three points they could have earned with a fully-stacked roster could prove costly when it comes to home-field advantage in the postseason. It’s also rough on the fans.
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said after the game that the home fans deserve to see a win. And considering Seattle hadn’t lost in its previous 15 home games, those fans generally leave satisfied.
Sunday was obviously different. Asked what positives he could take from the loss, Schmetzer paused for about five seconds before saying “that we never gave up.”
So is there anything that can be done to fix this? Is there a way for MLS Champions League teams to put a quality product on the field every time they play?
Well, one thing the CONCACAF should do is move the tournament to the fall. At this point in the year, MLS teams will have had a chance to add a designated player, shore up roster depth and fully recover from the previous season’s nagging injuries.
Not only would this elevate the level of play in the Champions League, it would give MLS coaches healthier, more talented players to roll out onto the pitch.
Sure, teams would still have to prioritize certain games, but you might not have champions getting shut out by expansion teams.
Ultimately, though, this is just soccer. Not playing a healthy Russell Wilson or Robinson Cano in the first game of the season would be insane. Not playing Dempsey was normal.
Based on history, there is little reason for Sounders supporters to panic after Sunday’s loss. Seattle has reached the MLS Cup in each of the past two seasons despite alarmingly slow starts.
But the MLS Cup isn’t really on their fans’ minds right now. Making history on an international stage is.