Brian Schmetzer: Don't count out Seattle Sounders at Club World Cup

2.2.23 CWC SEA

With less than 48 hours before their 2022 FIFA Club World Cup debut, the enormity of the situation is starting to sink in for Seattle Sounders FC.

The Rave Green, Major League Soccer's first-ever representative at the tournament by way of their 2022 Concacaf Champions League victory, are entering uncharted territory for both club and region.

As far as head coach Brian Schmetzer is concerned, he wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

"It's a big deal," Schmetzer told Extratime's Andrew Wiebe shortly after Egyptian powerhouse Al Ahly were confirmed as Saturday's (12 pm ET | FS2, FOX Deportes) Second Round opponent at Grand Stade de Tanger in Tangier, Morocco.

"I get the sense that, you know, everything is kind of leading up to this moment where we step onto that field."

Ready for the world stage

It's a moment almost nine months in the making, with extreme highs and deep lows in between. After reaching new international levels thanks to their CCL heroics, Seattle missed out on the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in club history last season – ending a league-record 13-year streak that was equaled by the New York Red Bulls in 2022.

And with just two external scrimmages played this winter, the Sounders haven't competed in an official match since early October.

However, Schmetzer has supreme faith in his players ahead of what's possibly the biggest challenge they've ever faced.

"I wouldn’t count us out by any stretch of the imagination. You know the pressure, the pressure of being in a Club World Cup. I would add a layer of excitement with that pressure," he said, before alluding to a deep squad that includes the likes of Nicolás Lodeiro, Stefan Frei, Raúl Ruidíaz, and US men's national team regulars Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris, to name a few.

"My guys are used to that. I’ve got some players that have played in some big-time games. I don’t know if you could say that the Sounders are gonna roll over a couple of teams, but I know we’re going to be competitive."

Even more promising is the return of João Paulo. The club's midfield linchpin and 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP finalist is match-fit after missing most of last year with an ACL tear.

"He will feature in the game. It just depends on minutes," Schmetzer said, not without tempering expectations surrounding the Brazilian.

"He’s gonna be rusty, he hasn’t played in eight months."

Wary of Al Ahly

As confident is he is about his team's chances, Schmetzer is perfectly aware of what they'll have to deal with against an opponent with ample Club World Cup experience. In addition to finishing in third place on three different occasions at this tournament, Al Ahly also have 42 Egyptian Premier League and 10 CAF (Africa) Champions League titles in their trophy case.

Another league crown could be on the way as well: the Red Devils are currently first in the Egyptian Premier League, undefeated with an 11W-0L-4D record.

"They are a very, very strong attacking team," Schmetzer warned. "They flood numbers in the box, their outside backs are very good… they cross a lot of balls. They’re a very creative, very dynamic attacking team."

The Sounders' boss is particularly fond of midfielder Aliou Dieng, a Malian international who commands the center of the field with his physical prowess.

"I love the number 15, Dieng," Schemtzer said. "I think he’s quality. I think he’s a great holding midfielder."

Respect for Real Madrid

Should Seattle take care of business, none other than Real Madrid would await in a Feb. 11 Semifinal. When it comes to accolades, only a handful of clubs can compare to the 35-time LaLiga, 14-time European and four-time Club World Cup champions, among other trophies.

"We’ve never played anybody like Real Madrid," Schmetzer stated. "They are arguably one of the top teams in the world, on the planet."

While Seattle have shared the field with first-rate European sides in the past, these matches couldn't hold a candle to a high-stakes clash against the Spanish giants in an official tournament.

"We’ve played Chelsea, Barcelona, but those are exhibition games," Schmetzer said, eager to see the Sounders compete at the elite level.

"This is competitive, there’s something on the line."