TUKWILA – Brian Schmetzer is fond of saying that the most important game is any next game on the timeline and that the Seattle Sounders’ goal is to always win every competition they enter. In that sense, a failure to advance in the US Open for the third year in a row should be considered a failure.
However, there was a silver lining. The Sounders can now focus on the laser in the MLS regular season. So far, things haven’t quite gone according to plan there.
“Obviously we accomplished something tremendous in winning the Champions League and the result was unfortunate in the Open Cup,” Jordan Morris told reporters on Friday. “We wanted to try to win that too. Now the focus is on climbing the table. We are not where we want to be but our whole focus is to have a good regular season and try to win the MLS Cup. I think we celebrated the win for sure but we are more hungry now to win the MLS Cup” .
With eight games, the Sounders are tied for the fewest points in the entire league, and their 0.88 points per game are better than just two teams. With 26 games left to play, there is plenty of time for improvement but the Sounders are well aware that they need to start turning things around.
“Our message this morning was about reality,” Schmitzer said. “I put a chip on where we stand in the standings. That is the reality. We need to start collecting points. How do we do it, when we do it, against whom we do it, we had better be prepared to win a few and lose less often” .
The next opportunity comes on Sunday when the Sounders host Minnesota United. The Sounders boast a 6-0-0 record against Minnesota at Lumen Field and won their previous road showdown this year 2-1. Minnesota is seventh in the Western Conference, battling a two-game losing streak.
“We know we are better than we are but we are very focused on the Champions League and that has had an impact,” Morris said. “We have to get three points and get the season back on track. It starts this weekend.”
A little over a week after the Sounders learned Joao Paulo would miss the year, the reality of the situation began to settle a bit more. Schmetzer reiterated previous statements that he feels confident the Sounders have players able to help fill that void, but also acknowledged that it must be filled collectively.
In addition to distributing Joao Paulo’s minutes to players like Obed Vargas, Josh Atencio, Daniel Leiva and Klein Rowe, Schmitzer said others will need to up their game the way they did against Pumas.
“The plan is to give young people a chance,” he said. “It will be on a rotational basis. How do we replace the guy who was thinking of the best player in the league? It won’t be easy.
“We have a big enough group that absences from JP are plenty but that’s not the end of the world either.”
Alfonso Ocampo Chavez was one of the notable names to leave the team’s card in the Open Cup match. Despite signing a first-team contract, Ocampo Chavez has not played with them since 2019 and has trained almost exclusively with Tacoma Defiance since then.
Ocampo Chavez is still only 20 years old, and he appears to be enjoying some revival. Ocampo Chavez leads the MLS Next Pro by six goals, already equaling his career high with Defiance in 2019.
Schmetzer said leaving Ocampo Chavez out of the Open Cup roster was an “oversight” and implied that the Californian could have been included in future nominees if the Sounders had advanced in the tournament.
“He was playing really well, but I needed to get him into the group first,” Schmitzer said. “I needed him to train with the group. I thought it was a bit unfair to the guys who were training all the time. So what we did was that we started with Fonz was that he would join the first team for a few more training sessions.
“He has done a good job at this level. If he continues to play well, we will bring him more.”
The Sounders received some good news ahead of the game as Xavier Arreaga has been cleared of concussion protocols. Although he was allowed to finish the match, Ariga likely suffered a concussion around the 50th minute of the CCL final. He missed the Sounders’ last two games, but was a full participant in Friday’s session.
Unfortunately, Arreaga’s return coincides with the temporary loss of Jackson Ragen, who has been put into the league’s health and safety protocol. This classification can mean a variety of things, but most often it means that a player has tested positive for Covid-19.