TUKWILA, Wash. – As the Seattle Sounders officially reported to preseason training camp for the first time in 2018 at Starfire Sports Complex on Monday, the mood was less jovial than it was at this time a year ago.
Last preseason, the Sounders were riding high, still basking in the glow of a miracle championship run that saw them top Toronto FC in penalty kicks to clinch their first-ever MLS Cup. This year, they’re picking up the pieces following an unceremonious 2-0 defeat in the 2017 Cup rematch at BMO that saw TFC dominate the contest virtually from start to finish.
Speaking with reporters at Starfire on Monday, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said he harbors no illusions about the manner in which his team’s 2017 season ended.
“On some level, we didn’t show up,” Lagerwey said. “That wasn’t the Sounders team we’d all seen and been accustomed to. I think the causes for that are probably complex and myriad and, honestly, maybe not worth rehashing two months later. I think the takeaway from it is that when you play on the biggest stage, on the road, against a team that’s been waiting 11 months to kick your teeth in, you’d better be ready.
“And on the day, we couldn’t hold the ball. We couldn’t do some basic things we’d been doing for the past six months. So we have to improve upon that and there’s lots of things we can do to get better.”
At the same time, Lagerwey said that he didn’t think the defeat was cause for any sort of drastic personnel overhaul. The Sounders were one of the league’s hottest teams following the addition of midseason acquisitions Kelvin Leerdam and Victor Rodriguez and dominated the Western Conference playoffs, where they were never really challenged by the Vancouver Whitecaps or Houston Dynamo.
“We weren’t happy with how we played in the final,” Lagerwey said. “That outcome was not a good one, we did not perform well, we are not sitting here and saying losing in the final in that manner is acceptable. But what we are saying is that we’re not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water and build from scratch because we lost one game on the road either.”
For his part, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said the hope is that the defeat can be channeled into motivation ahead of the upcoming MLS season. It’s a theme that TFC used to great effect last year, when they responded to their MLS Cup defeat to Seattle by lighting up the league and putting together arguably the most dominant front-to-back season in league history in 2017.
“We’re going to use it as motivation,” Schmetzer said. “I’ll speak for my staff and maybe a little bit for the staff, we were not happy. We went over how we prepared the team, why we prepared the team, all the things that we could to figure out why we had such a poor performance. So, that falls on my shoulders. I have to make sure we reflect and we learn and get better so that the next time we’re presented that type of situation, we can help them with solutions. That was a tough loss, it still hurts and we will definitely use it as motivation for next season.”