After losing to his lifelong archrival on Aug. 29, Sounders FC coach Brian Schmetzer was calm. His club hasn’t defeated Portland at home since 2018 and the 2-0 result at Lumen Field marked three home Major League Soccer losses overall this season.
Schmetzer, a native who also once played for the club, told reporters the stretch against Portland is eating at him a bit, yet the home form might be a “blip on the radar” and how the team needs to “stay disciplined.” Wording the coach said he also shared postgame with the players in the locker room.
“Then I went to bed that night and I woke up the next morning with a stomachache,” Schmetzer said after training at Starfire Sports in Tukwila earlier this month. “I changed my message to the group when we watched film the next day. I pointed out a few things that weren’t quite up to the standard.
“I’m not talking about the two goals, the play on the two goals. That’s not what I’m talking about. And I’m not necessarily talking about the missed chances because those are good chances. We had a ton of them. I’m talking about in general, what it takes to be a championship team. A Supporters’ Shield-winning team. A team that can run deep into the playoffs. What is the standard we set for ourselves at home? There’s a lot of chatter about our home record. That’s what I challenged them with. Because I’m not happy about it.”
The Sounders are teetering on losing four home games for the first time since 2016, when they lost five home matches . They host Minnesota United FC on Saturday. The Loons snapped Seattle’s league-record unbeaten streak to open a season with a 1-0 victory at Allianz Field in July.
Seattle’s performance at home lately makes the season-opening romp against Minnesota seem like the anomaly. Starting with midfielder Joao Paulo’s right-footed golazo in the 49th minute, the Sounders smashed four goals into the net after halftime for the 4-0 victory.
The club has scored two goals in its past four home matches, not counting the 3-0 Leagues Cup victory over Tigres on Aug. 10.
On the road, the Sounders are the force they’re usually known to be at Lumen Field. They have a league-tying-best seven away wins, which is keeping the club at the top of the Western Conference standings and second in the Supporters’ Shield race with 42 points.
When pressed about the discrepancy, the Sounders (12-4-6) are just as confounded as longtime followers of the team.
“People circle this on their calendar,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said recently of opponents playing their best at Lumen Field. “We feel like we’ve created a lot of chances, it’s just the ball doesn’t go in. For whatever reason, we’re getting countered and we’re making mistakes at home. Meanwhile, when we’re on the road, we maybe defend with a little bit more guys. We’ll fix it with time.”
MLS released its playoff schedule Thursday and there’s an incentive to winning the conference. The first-place finishers of the Eastern and Western standings receive a first-round bye.
The higher seeds have home-field advantage throughout the postseason, including the MLS Cup Final. With the single-elimination format, the Sounders credited playing at home for the 2019 championship win — defeating Toronto FC before 69,274 fans at Lumen Field.
Could this be a season where the Sounders are better off on the road?
“We’ve overcome so much adversity this year, this is just another (one),” Schmetzer said Wednesday. “You really get a bump in the playoffs if you’re the home team. But, then again, if we have to go on the road and play a playoff game, I’m confident in that as well.”
Saturday’s matinee is the first of another three-match week for the Sounders. The condensed schedule, international call-ups and injuries have forced Schmetzer to start teenagers, change formations and use players in odd spots, like midfielder Kelyn Rowe at right wingback for the first time in his career.
Seattle will likely be without striker Raul Ruidiaz (Peru) and defender Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador), who were with their national teams. Both countries played World Cup qualifying matches Thursday.
Roldan helped the U.S. men’s national team defeat Honduras on Wednesday. Depending on travel from San Pedro Sula, he could be available for selection because he again was a substitute for the three international matches, totaling 47 minutes.
Sounders midfielder Alex Roldan started his three matches for El Salvador and isn’t expected to be available for the Sounders against Minnesota (8-6-7).
Seattle could get a boost in seeing goalkeeper Stefan Frei return. He’s been out since May due to a sprained knee injury that developed blood clots and is expected to start.
“We want to make Lumen Field a really hard place to play, unfortunately, we haven’t had the results as of late,” Sounders forward Will Bruin said Wednesday of the 5-3-4 home record. “But we know we can easily get them.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Sounders had a three consecutive home losses. The Sounders have lost three times total at home this season.