It figures the Sounders would be forced into a two-week FIFA international break just when they’d finally gotten their attack looking its most lethal in franchise history.
Not only that, but any team-wide benefit from the extended rest might be offset by several key components of that vaunted Sounders attack only returning later this week from international duty with various national teams. That means there might be more than just rust for coach Brian Schmetzer and his crew to combat in Vancouver on Saturday, when the Sounders finally resume play.
“From a group standpoint, it’s probably better that we could have played,’’ Schmetzer said Monday, as the team resumed training in Tukwila minus four starters still with national sides. “But, that’s FIFA. It’s a world game.’’
Schmetzer added that “it’s probably a little early for that first break’’ because of how well the team had been doing. The Sounders are 3-0 and with 10 goals scored are on pace to shatter the Major League Soccer record of 85 goals set by the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy.
And they might be even better than they’ve looked.
There had been some thought the team’s schedule was unusually light to start the year, but the expansion FC Cincinnati squad routed 4-1 by Schmetzer’s team in the opener has gone 2-0-1 in three matches since. Meanwhile, a Colorado side beaten 2-0 by the Sounders has managed a pair of tough draws against formidable Sporting Kansas City and Portland.
And while the Chicago Fire is still winless, it has only a one-goal loss and a draw outside of its 4-2 defeat to the Sounders at home two Saturdays ago. So, the theory goes, if those three teams are actually better than advertised, then the Sounders might be even better as well.
Schmetzer for now is staying away from such talk the way visiting fans at CenturyLink Field tend to avoid the Emerald City Supporters’ sections. Especially the question of whether getting off to a 4-0 start for the first time in franchise history with a victory this weekend means anything.
“This team, we’ve urged them to try to get off to a fast start,’’ Schmetzer said. “But three games is three games. Four games is four. Talk to me when we’re 10 games in.’’
Plus, this might not be the best week to start chirping about historical records. Schmetzer won’t say it aloud, but he has to be worried about the Vancouver contest being one of those “trap” affairs for his undefeated squad against a Whitecaps side that’s yet to secure a point.
Vancouver fired coach Carl Robinson and overhauled most of its staff and roster in dramatic fashion this past winter and has predictably struggled to find any cohesiveness. But the Whitecaps also have Fredy Montero back again and he spent much of 2017 scoring against his former Sounders team at the same pace he once did for them.
Not to mention the problem of all the Sounders still absent and playing elsewhere: such as midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro logging a full 90 minutes for Uruguay on Monday as it defeated Thailand 4-0 to win the China Cup. Lodeiro had played 61 minutes over the weekend in a 3-0 victory over Kazakhstan in which he assisted on the decisive goal.
Now, he’ll have to leave China and cross several time zones to return to Seattle by Thursday ahead of the departure Friday for Vancouver.
Sounders forward Jordan Morris played 68 minutes for the U.S. Men’s National Team in a 1-0 victory over Ecuador in Orlando, Fla., last Thursday, while midfielder Cristian Roldan played the final 22 minutes. Both could see further action Tuesday against Chile in Houston ahead of returning for the Vancouver game.
Gustav Svensson subbed on for the final 22 minutes of Sweden’s 2-1 triumph over Romania last Thursday in Euro 2020 qualifying action. Sweden plays again Tuesday in Norway, meaning Svensson faces a quick cross-Atlantic flight home to rejoin his squad for the Whitecaps game.
Lodeiro and Morris are two vital members to the four-man attacking unit that’s rolled over MLS opposition thus far, while Roldan also is prone to joining the attack from his defensive midfield spot. So, the offense might be lacking some of its typical ferocity to open the contest Saturday while the middle of the field — patrolled by Lodeiro, Svensson and Roldan — could also prove vulnerable defensively depending on the physical state of all three players.
“We’ve got to check in on those guys before we roll them out there so we don’t put them at injury risk,’’ Schmetzer said.
While Schmetzer can use attacking midfielder Harry Shipp if needed, his team’s greatest depth is at center back and left back positions that weren’t impacted by the international call-ups and thus won’t be of much help spelling anybody. Even his primary defensive midfield backup, Jordy Delem, has been away in the Caribbean playing for Martinique.
So, it’s going to be a challenging week for the Sounders regardless of where they — and their opponents — are in the standings.