TUKWILA — Serenaded by dozens of flag-waving, chanting supporters, the Sounders wrapped up possibly their final home training session of the season Sunday hoping to give their faithful an even bigger home show.
Left unsaid throughout preparations for Tuesday night’s Western Conference final at Los Angeles FC is that a Sounders victory positions them to potentially host the MLS Cup final. While Toronto FC would still need a road victory at Atlanta for that to happen, the “Reds’’ have looked dangerous of late and quite capable of advancing.
“We talk about it and we were all watching the (other playoff) games and obviously, I think, rooting for (lower Eastern Conference seed) Philly a little bit (against Atlanta) because that would have helped us out,’’ Sounders midfielder Jordan Morris said of his team’s MLS Cup final seeding. “So, of course we talk about it.’’
But right now, Morris added, the focus is mostly on beating Supporters’ Shield winner LAFC in what most around MLS would view as a stunning upset. And that starts, he added, with the Sounders playing as if in front of their CenturyLink Field faithful instead of at one of the league’s more hostile environments.
“I think we need to play similar to how we try to play at home,’’ Morris said. “We need to come out on our front foot and get after them. We know how dangerous of a team they are. They have some amazing attacking weapons and their midfield is very good. So, we’ll obviously have to shut that down and create our own chances.’’
The Sounders haven’t been this close to creating their own chance to host a championship since blowing the final leg of the 2014 conference final at home to the L.A. Galaxy. Two years ago, in the moments after an MLS Cup loss to Toronto, coach Brian Schmetzer stood on the postgame podium and declared it his goal to play an ensuing final on home turf.
He’s inching closer, albeit 11 or 12 months later than he’d initially hoped.
“It’s a really big motivator,’’ Schmetzer said Sunday. “I mean, we have to obviously do our business first. But yeah, if Toronto somehow … they’re sure capable of it. Toronto’s a good team. Then, it would be great.”
Schmetzer then added: “I’m sure my bosses would be happy.’’
The dream of a sea of 60,000 Rave Green diehards watching their team’s biggest home match ever has long dominated the front office’s wish list. Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer watched Sunday as his players entered the practice pitch, walking a gauntlet of cheering, singing supporters high-fiving and stopping them for autographs.
Hanauer had watched the 2009 MLS Cup final played at then-Qwest Field as a neutral-site affair and wondered how much more special it would have been with his team playing. A decade later, he still wonders, though he’s put such thoughts on hold until after Tuesday’s match.
“I am certain that there’s a lot of it being discussed within the organization,’’ Hanauer said. “But nobody brings it up with me because they know I don’t want to think past the next game. Which is probably not great leadership, but I’m a little superstitious.’’
Hanauer added: “There are so many variables. We absolutely want to host an MLS Cup. But for now, we just want to make it to an MLS Cup.’’
Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey was in charge of the team that won that prior Seattle-based MLS Cup final in 2009, his Real Salt Lake squad upsetting the Galaxy. Lagerwey said hosting the MLS Cup has been an organizational topic of late, namely because certain planning — largely based around security — had to begin once the Sounders made the playoffs.
“Practically, there’s a bunch of infrastructure that has to get set up and plans made so yeah, you’ve got to do that no matter what,’’ Lagerwey said. “I think, obviously, Tuesday’s going to be very, very difficult for us and from a team perspective, everybody’s focus is on that.’’
Lagerwey has long believed this year’s team was his best and deepest yet, despite repeated struggles — especially on defense. That depth will be tested Tuesday with center back Roman Torres almost certainly not starting because of injury, though the team’s coaching staff is quietly optimistic MLS newcomer Xavier Arreaga and his quickness may prove better suited to slow the high-pressing LAFC attack.
“Arguably, since we played them in April, us and everybody else has been waiting for this game,’’ Lagerwey said. “We’re pretty excited.’’
The Sounders know that surviving against LAFC means they can almost certainly run the championship table against whoever’s next. And by that point, having overcome this year’s version of the “best MLS team ever’’ it may not matter whether they play the final at home or anyplace else there’s a soccer pitch.