While the Pacific Northwest isn’t accustomed to the excessive heat the area is experiencing this weekend, the Sounders FC know what to expect.
Seattle will host its Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday at Lumen Field. Kickoff was pushed back three minutes to 6:11 p.m. to avoid as much direct sunlight as possible when the temperature is expected to reach 94 degrees.
But it’s not the most oppressive weather condition the club has faced. Sounders defender Shane O’Neill, who played two seasons in Orlando, doesn’t think Saturday’s conditions will compare to summer evening matches in Florida, Texas or even Colorado.
MLS returned to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2020 with a tournament in the Orlando area. Kickoff times were early morning and late night — the Sounders playing the Chicago Fire FC at 6 a.m. PT during the group stage — in an attempt to avoid the peak heat and humidity.
The Sounders’ four matches still averaged 80 degrees and 80% humidity. A group-stage win against Vancouver was in 84 degree weather with 71% humidity.
“MLS in the summer, that’s what it’s like,” O’Neill said. “There’s going to be some brutally hot games this summer, whether it be down in Houston or away games in Dallas or even Colorado, I’m sure will not be fun. That’s just this league and we’ve got to be able to grind it out because it’s an important game.”
The league, Lumen Field operations team and Sounders front office have been in communication this past week to be sure all safety precautions are in place for the match, including moving the game back so the sun is obscured by the Lumen Field roof.
MLS rules already mandate cooling breaks if the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) measures 82 degrees or higher. The referee can, at any time, implement a discretionary “drinks break” during cases in which player safety is determined to be at risk, according to the league’s guidelines.
Cooling breaks typically last between 90 and 180 seconds and are normally held 30 minutes into each half, if needed.
“Those people that don’t believe in global warming, they need to catch up on the news,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We played that game against (Real Salt Lake on Wednesday) and by 6 o’clock, the field was in the shade. It wasn’t bad. I know the temperature is going to be a little hotter Saturday than it was on Wednesday, but the fact of the matter is the operations people are going to work on it. There’s protocols in place. … Our team is mentally strong and I always tell them you can’t control the weather, the conditions of the field, blah, blah, blah. They’ll deal with it, we’ll be fine.”
O’Neill said the players are more focused on keeping a clean sheet against the Whitecaps. The Sounders stretched their MLS record of not conceding a goal within the run of play to 900 minutes. But opponents have scored three goals in Seattle’s past four matches — all on penalty kicks.
The Sounders (7-0-3) have conceded five goals overall this season, two being from free kicks.
“I don’t think we’ve conceded a lot of big chances in games and that’s the key, limiting the amount of chances the opposition has,” O’Neill said. “We’ve done a really good job of getting pressure on the ball outside of the 18 (penalty box). Not a lot of teams have had us have to do crazy blocks in the box. Nouhou has had a couple, but nothing insane.
“We want to keep doing that and definitely dial in on those penalties. Because, if I’m being honest, it’s all well and good to not concede goals in the run of play, but if you’re conceding a penalty every game or every other game, what does that really mean?”
Vancouver (2-6-1) could be another tricky opponent like RSL, which Seattle defeated 2-1. The Whitecaps have lost their past five matches and could receive a boost if made to face their former striker in Fredy Montero.
Montero played his past three MLS seasons for Vancouver. He signed a free-agent contract with Seattle in March, last playing for the Rave Green from 2009-2012.
“I hate to play against friends and lose,” Montero said. “I have a connection with them off the field, so I don’t want to lose to them.”
NOTE: The Sounders announced Thursday they will open Lumen Field to its full MLS capacity without restrictions beginning July 7. But in complying with Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders amid the pandemic, the lower bowl will remain a “vaccinated section” Saturday where people will have to show vaccination verification upon entry and children ages 5-15 will have to show proof of a recent negative COVID test.
Wednesday’s home win was the club’s first with the altered seating arrangement. There were 24,652 people in attendance for the match, the most since March 2020.
Fans are advised to arrive early Saturday to allow time for security/verification checks.