It seems like just yesterday, Brian Schmetzer says, that the Sounders were preparing to get on a plane to play the Houston Dynamo in their third game of the Major League Soccer season.
Actually, it has been three weeks — interminable in many respects, a flash in others — since the Sounders coach led his players through what no one yet knew would be their final training session until … well, who knows? As Schmetzer put it, probably no one on the planet can say with confidence when the season will resume.
“We were dialed in, ready to go,” Schmetzer said during a video conference call Monday, and then paused. “Things change.”
Those changes have been profound for everyone, of course, because of the onslaught of coronavirus. The Sounders are trying to strike an extremely delicate balance between maintaining the fitness of their players as best as possible and adhering to health guidelines.
Garth Lagerwey, the general manager, said during the same video conference that Sounders players have all stayed in the Seattle area, and they are holed up in their homes just like all of us. He added that “a couple” of players have been tested for COVID-19, but none came back positive.
“Our facilities are closed,” he said. “We are not bringing our athletes anywhere. We are not sending them out in the community. We are practicing safe social distancing. Our athletes are not even using the gyms in their apartments right now.
“We’re trying to get creative to keep them engaged. That’s what we’re looking at: Trying to get them interested and motivated during this difficult time for all of us. The important message is we act as good community members right now and try to be leaders and good examples of what is required of all of us in this shared sacrifice to get through this.”
In fact, Lagerwey’s message to antsy soccer fans yearning to see the Sounders back in action is that there’s a link between safe health practices and the resumption of the season.
“The best thing we can do to try to maximize the number of games we play this season is to take this seriously,” he said.
In the meantime, it’s a whole new world for everyone involved. Lagerwey’s mother-in-law lived a block away from the Life Care Center in Kirkland that became the epicenter of the virus, with 37 people dying there. Lagerwey and his wife Hilary decided to move her in with them — and just to be safe, Garth self-quarantined for two weeks in an apartment above their garage.
“Stuff like that makes it really real,” he said.
But there’s also a bonding element taking place all over that Lagerwey is savoring. It has been decades, he said, since he didn’t have a soccer game to play, watch, broadcast or scout. He’s enjoying the extra time with his family, which includes two young boys.
“With every crisis comes an opportunity,” he said, adding, “All of a sudden, I see what the rest of the world is like.”
Schmetzer jokes that his dog is the prime beneficiary of their new shelter-at-home existence.
“My wife Kristine and I have done a lot of walking,” he said. “Our dog is leading a charmed life. He’s getting two hourlong walks a day.”
But it’s not all reverie. Far from it. Schmetzer said he has been in deep discussions with his staff on bigger-picture elements such as game models, practice regimen and training methods. And he has tried to monitor the progress of his players, who were given a “Care” package of a soccer ball, hand sanitizer, resistance bands, foam rollers, small handheld weights and the like.
“It’s challenging,” Schmetzer said. “There’s a lot of articles out there that coaches are sending film (to their players), doing all that sort of stuff. I mean, we’ve kind of shied away from that to start with. We don’t know how long this is going to last. You can’t have them watch film for six weeks straight if this goes out very much longer.”
MLS has a targeted return date of May 10, but at this point that’s more wishful thinking than anything else. Lagerwey did say that the hope is to still play a full schedule, even if it means extending the season to December, and to do so in fan-filled, rather than empty, stadiums.
“I think you may see us be patient in terms of launching a season to get to a point where we can play in front of fans, because we really feel that’s part of the ‘Sounders experience,’ ” he said.
Meanwhile, the Sounders’ training program is being administered to players, via Zoom, by their strength and conditioning staff, led by Sean Muldoon.
“Sean may be the breakout star,” Lagerwey said with a laugh, “but Stella is definitely the lead singer.”
Stella is Muldoon’s 2-year-old daughter, who does her own version of the exercises as her dad models them — much to the amusement of all involved.
“She’s absolutely adorable,” Lagerwey said. “As a parent of a 2-year-old myself, it’s just a joyful age. She moves in and out, and she usually has some spectacular outfits she’s selected for herself, too.
“It’s just a lot of fun, and it allows the whole family to do the workout as well, because the kids can join in along with the professional athletes, and everyone can do it together.”
Eventually, the Sounders will get the eagerly anticipated word to ramp up in preparation for the relaunch of training camp. For now, though, they’re trying to find opportunity amid the crisis.