Brian Schmetzer knows all about the "Slow-Start Sounders" narrative that has dogged his team in recent years.
Seattle have become known for scuffling out of the gate and taking a while to find their footing, before turning it up in the second half of the season and embarking on lengthy playoff runs. In some seasons, they've had to salvage a playoff spot in the last few games of the year.
On the whole, it's worked out: Seattle have won two out of the last four MLS Cups and been to three. But the Sounders coach still doesn't like the reputation, making a point of saying that he hoped it was dead for good after the team started 5-1-0 in 2019. And as Seattle get set to resume their season with a massive Cascadia rivalry clash with the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Sunday (10 pm ET | FS1 in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), Schmetzer said it's even more important to shoot out of the gate during a shortened season.
"The thing that internally concerns us as a group, as a staff, is there have been years [we start slow], and last year we tried to stamp that out, and I think we did, and then we had a little dip. If we get off to a slow start there’s not as many games this year to catch up," Schmetzer said on a Friday conference call. "That’s why the importance of getting points in these games, especially when you know in MLS it’s hard to win away from home. This is our best chance winning away from home because we’ve had good preparation for that road match. It’s not like it’s in fourth of six games, where we’ve got to go to RSL at altitude.
"My expectations are always the same, the expectations at this club and the expectations that I have personally as a coach are that we make the playoffs and try to do as well as we can in the playoffs and try to win MLS Cup."
As the reigning champs, the Sounders are likely to have to deal with everyone's best shot, which could make it more of a challenge. While Schmetzer said that might be less of a factor in what has been an unprecedented season, he also noted that Chicago Fire FC did seem to take extra joy in knocking his team off at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.
"There is a little bit of luster lost as far as public perception and storylines that go long with being the defending champs," he said. "But I can tell you this: That when Chicago beat us in the MLS is Back Tournament, they were extremely happy. The locker rooms are really close together. They were jumping up and down and hooting and hollering. They were very happy to beat the MLS champs. So I think internally, other teams measure themselves against top teams in our league. Internally among teams, among coaches among players, it just might not get enough media attention because of the whole situation we’re in with COVID. It does seem like a really long time ago that we lifted the trophy on our home field."
Midfielder Cristian Roldan said there could hardly be a better way to see where his team stands than to kick it all off with a rivalry match against the Timbers, who are riding high after winning the MLS is Back Tournament. While there won't be any fans in attendance at Providence, the match still figures to be an intense one.
"It's great to just get after it right away playing against a good side, two champions, the reigning champions of MLS Cup and MLS is Back," Roldan said. "It's great to just get back into it, we obviously think that this game is going to be one of the more intense ones of the restart so to be able to just get that out of the way and measure ourselves right away is something that’s going to be really important for us."