For the record, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer, have a great relationship.
“And I would like for coach Schmetzer and his staff to come back next year (to remove) any doubt,” Lagerwey said.
The declarations were in reference to being captivated by ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” an intimate chronicle of Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls, while quarantined due to the coronavirus outbreak. On a conference call with media Tuesday, it was evident Schmetzer and Lagerwey are nothing like former Bulls GM Jerry Krause and coach Phil Jackson, who were adversaries.
The Sounders leaders where symbiotic on a wide range of topics, in particular wanting MLS to safely resume with a plan to play its full season in front of fans. The league shut down in March after its teams played two matches apiece in efforts to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“(If) we started again and then had to shut down a second time, I think that would be catastrophic,” Schmetzer said.
A strategic return to the season begins Wednesday with MLS teams not under state or city stay-at-home mandates able to hold voluntary outdoor training sessions for individual players. The Sounders cannot participate because Gov. Jay Inslee extended the state’s order through May 31.
But Schmetzer said he and his staff started thinking creatively about how those practices would work considering the amount of restrictions. According to MLS protocols, fields must be divided into no more than four sections, players can’t share any equipment nor have any contact and indoor facilities like the weight room and locker room are off-limits.
“We’re trying to think of fun ways to get to interact with each other but not interact with each other,” Schmetzer said. “It’ll be good for the guys to run around on the grass. On the flip side, if we start now and the games are still down on the horizon, guys are going to be tired of dribbling around cones for an hour a day. That’s not much fun for them either. We’re trying to keep both of those mindsets in our thoughts of how we roll out this training and what do we do.”
Schmetzer said he’d like to have six weeks of training before playing competitive games. His club, which won the MLS Cup in November, was one of five ahead of schedule because of competing in the CONCACAF Champions League in February.
The Sounders dropped their opening two-leg series to CD Olimpia. But the club didn’t have its preferred first-choice lineup due to injuries to co-captain Nico Lodeiro (hamstring) and Gustav Svensson (calf) plus recent signee Yeimar Gomez Andrade, a Colombian defender, had trouble getting his U.S. P1 Visa approved.
While that early training last winter in California, Mexico and Honduras is now a wash, Lagerwey rushing to finalize the Sounders roster in hopes of a deep Champions League run puts Seattle in a better position if and when MLS play resumes. Various travel and immigration bans could hinder how other clubs form their rosters through an expected tricky season where players have been on a two-month (and counting) hiatus.
“Players couldn’t get visas even if you wanted to bring them in,” Lagerwey said. “We’re just at a total shutdown from a player-acquisition standpoint.”
MLS is targeting June 8 to return to play. Although the Sounders wouldn’t be able to train in Washington without government and health approval this month, Lagerwey said all proposals are being vetted, including the team training and playing outside of the state if MLS deemed it safe amid the pandemic.
Even playing without fans is a possibility. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday on the Snapchat series “Good Luck America” that she doubts crowds will be at stadiums in the near future and intimated there could instead be mannequins like a baseball league in South Korea and soccer club in Belarus have used.
Emerald City Supporters, one of the Sounders’ Supporters Groups, issued a statement in April that read “football without fans is nothing” and called for the “continued suspension of the MLS season until matches can be played in a manner that is safe for players, team personnel, and fans.”
“Nobody wants to play without any fans,” Schmetzer said. “We hope that by some miracle somebody finds a vaccine or something good happens and we’re able to control this terrible disease and we can get back to normal.
“Until then, we’ll be good citizens. We’ll try to provide a leadership role as stewards of the city and the club. When the time comes and somebody tells us, ‘OK, you’re going to go over here to play’ we’ll be ready.”