Sounders FC matches will be played at CenturyLink Field again.
Major League Soccer released on Saturday a truncated schedule to resume the 2020 season. The lineup gives the Sounders 18 more league matches to play after MLS shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Sounders will begin the regular-season return on the road with matches Aug. 23 against the Portland Timbers and Aug. 26 at the Los Angeles Galaxy. The first match at CenturyLink since March will be Aug. 30 against Los Angeles FC at 7 p.m. PT.
The culmination of the MLS schedule will be Decision Day on Nov. 8. The postseason will be expanded to include 18 clubs with the MLS Cup played Dec. 12.
As of now, games in Washington will still be without fans. The Sounders previously gave season-ticket holders the option for a refund or rollover to an expected 2021 season due to the change.
“It’s super exciting,” Sounders forward Jordan Morris said via phone interview. “Portland is a big rival, so that’s a fun one to start with, but I’m just excited to have games in home markets again.”
The league returned to competitive matches via the MLS is Back tournament now concluding in Florida on Aug. 11 with a championship faceoff between Portland and Orlando City SC.
Seattle was ousted, 4-1, by LAFC in the round of 16 in July.
For 24 of the league’s 26 teams, the three group-stage matches used to qualify for the tournament’s knockout rounds also count toward the 2020 standings. Combined with the two matches each of the 26 teams played prior to the shutdown, the Sounders enter the return with a 2-1-2 record (8 points).
FC Dallas and Nashville SC were withdrawn from the tournament being played in a sequestered environment on Walt Disney World’s compound after multiple players and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Dallas and Nashville open the regular-season return playing against each other, beginning Aug. 12 and 16, due to missing three matches each in Florida.
MLS only released a partial schedule — six games — because of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada. All matches will air in the U.S. on either ESPN or Fox Sports and across Univision’s networks.
The U.S. saw a recent spike in positive cases for COVID-19 and multiple states are considering scaling back lifts to business and activity bans in order to contain the spread of the virus.
King County is currently in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” for Washington. Outdoor activities for small groups are permissible, thus the Sounders returning to training Monday at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. The team is allowed to play scrimmages against each other and follows the same strict safety protocols implemented by MLS with the advisement of health officials, including wearing masks and getting tested frequently.
For matches, both clubs will be tested prior to game day.
“There’s some hope we can [play] with some fans this year, but that’s not up to us,” said Garth Lagerwey, the club’s president of soccer and general manager. The Sounders’ primary revenue is game-day operations, which is why they applied for and were granted nearly $2.8 million from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program to retain their staff.
“None of this is easy and it’s not easy for anybody, there are tons of businesses impacted by COVID,” Lagerwey continued, noting the unexpected cost of testing. “It’s been a devastating year from a financial perspective but it’s worth it to keep our people safe. Whatever it costs to test people, however often we need to do it, we’re going to do it vigilantly. Things like charter [flights] are expensive and giving everyone their own hotel room — all of that stuff costs money.
“We go from having the second-largest crowd in the league to not having any crowd at all. It is what it is, but the Sounders are going to survive and we’re just excited to get back to playing games, hopefully bring some happiness back to the Seattle community.”
The Sounders won the 2019 MLS Cup in November. The bulk of the championship squad returned for the 2020 season but haven’t shown the same promise.
Seattle lost in the opening round of the CONCACAF Champions League last winter in addition to the MLS tournament loss, which did begin after four months of being quarantined in Washington.
In addition to the Florida tournament loss, the Sounders suffered injuries to center back Yeimar Gomez (hamstring strain), and midfielders Danny Leyva (foot fracture) and Alex Roldan (quad strain) while in Florida. Newly signed designated player in midfielder Joao Paulo did not participate due to a quad strain.
“The mindset is going to be different,” Morris said of returning to regular-season play. The Sounders are fifth in MLS’s Western Conference standings. Sporting Kansas City (4-1-0) leads.
“We approach every game the same with wanting to win,” Morris continued. “Now, the focus gets back to finishing as high as we can in the conference in order to have a good spot in the playoffs. Every game matters in terms of that.”