The Sounders are slated to host Los Angeles FC at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night, their first home game since the coronavirus shutdown.
But that is not what’s foremost on the minds of the team. Instead it’s the civil unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Sounders were among the teams joining Wednesday’s athlete strike, choosing not to play their game that night at the Los Angeles Galaxy.
They return Sunday with their message about systemic racism remaining the same.
“If things don’t change quickly, I could see this happening for as long as needed,” Sounders forward Jordan Morris said via videoconference call with media Friday. “Moments like this or protest or whatever you want to call them are going to keep happening, because people are so tired. Nothing is changing and been going on for so, so, so long. Way too long. Even in this moment now, it feels like nothing is changing and people aren’t listening. This is going to keep going.”
Change hasn’t come, and the athletes are trying to keep a societal focus on the issues, a strategy that has drawn more attention than when they participated in marches following the police killing of George Floyd in May. Or when the Sounders organization recently released an initiative centering on voting and fighting for equal rights.
“Everybody knows, professional athletes just want to play sports,” Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam said via videoconference call with media Friday. “The time we’re in, some things are more important than sports. This is one of the cases in which you have to put sports in second place and try to get everybody a better life, better understanding how some people are living their life sometimes in fear because they don’t know if they’re coming home.”
Due to MLS protocols to guard against COVID-19, the Sounders were in their individual hotel rooms in Carson, California, when news broke Wednesday that the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks had refused to take the court for their playoff game in Florida. Discussions among Sounders players started on their group chat and then in person. According to Leerdam, Morris, goalkeeper Stefan Frei and midfielders Gustav Svensson and Cristian Roldan were among the most vocal.
“Not playing a game is extremely tough for us, because that’s all we want to do,” Roldan said via audio provided by MLS. “But not talking about Jacob Blake is something we can’t afford to do. There’s so much injustice in the world, and Jacob Blake is another example of that.”
Morris said the club was not going to play its match against the Galaxy regardless of what the other teams across the league did. Orlando City SC and Nashville SC played their game in Florida in part because organizing a strike happened too close to kickoff, according to multiple reports. MLS is rescheduling the other five matches from Wednesday.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer canceled Thursday’s training to give the team a mental break. The sessions resumed Friday at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.
“They were actually happy to get back out on the field,” Schmetzer said via videoconference with media Friday. “It was good for them to just get back out and play.”
Sunday’s match is the first at CenturyLink since MLS shut down play in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The Sounders finished in a 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew SC on March 7.
The match against LAFC (2-1-3) will be played without fans due to government restrictions regarding crowd sizes. Despite missing their supporters, the Sounders are eager to play to avenge their last match against their Southern California rival.
LAFC defeated the Sounders 4-1in the Round of 16 of the MLS is Back tournament in July. Three of the goals were the result of errors by center backs Xavier Arreaga and Shane O’Neill.
“We’re excited to play LAFC,” Roldan said. “Obviously they’re a tough opponent and a difficult task. One that we felt like we could’ve done better in the MLS is Back tournament. It’s important for us to have a good game against them and we’re at home. We haven’t played at CenturyLink for a while, so we have to take care of business.”
The Sounders are expected to have their full selection of first-choice players Sunday. Arreaga returns after missing Seattle’s win at Portland last week due to a quad injury.
“It’s such a crazy year,” Schmetzer said. “People are stressed out. It’s really been a challenging year.”