"This is the deepest team I’ve been a part of": Sounders' depth key to earning result in Austin

Coming off a midweek win over Liga MX's Club León that booked their spot in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals, the Seattle Sounders were forced into rotation Sunday afternoon against Austin FC and still managed to grind out a 1-1 draw at Q2 Stadium.

The squad's impressive depth was on full display as Will Bruin, making his first start of the season, opened the score for the visitors by finishing off a squared ball in from Cristian Roldan shortly before halftime. The veteran forward was re-signed by the Sounders this offseason to a one-year deal, with a club option for 2023, to provide stability behind Peruvian standout Raul Ruidiaz and Fredy Montero.

“This is the deepest team I’ve been a part of,” Bruin said in his post-game presser. “We have guys with a lot of experience, we have guys that can probably start on a lot of teams, so I think the flexibility to be able to do that, [head coach Brian] Schmetzer is using that perfectly and we’re showing guys are capable of stepping up and doing it.

“I think that’s something that makes the whole roster competitive every day in training, every day on the field. Our job is to make decisions hard for Schmetz and that’s just the way our team is built and that’s a really good thing to have in this league.”

Backup goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland, who started the game in place of Stefan Frei, also impressed in his first appearance of the year, making seven saves to preserve the draw for the Sounders.

The 27-year-old is coming off a career year with Seattle, stepping into the limelight when long-time starter Frei missed almost half of last season with a leg injury. Cleveland acquitted himself well during his stint in net, starting 15 matches and earning three clean sheets with a 7-4-5 record across all competitions, and has followed his 2021 season up with another strong showing.

“I think the depth plays a lot into it,” Cleveland noted after the match. “There’s just a lot of trust in the team. Everybody trusts each other so when somebody steps in that hasn’t started in the last bit, I know that the team trusts me and that gives me confidence. At the end of the day, it’s a confident team and that’s how we’re going to find results.”

For Cleveland, he credits his ability to step in and perform despite the long layoff in between matches to his rigorous mindset.

“Every day when we go into train, it’s just focusing like you’re the starter, so when we need to step in for those minutes, it’s kind of the same thing as last year… you have to be mentally prepared,” he added. “It’s doing all those mental reps of these games and being ready for this environment and taking full concentration into each training so when you have to do it for a full 90 minutes, it’s not the first time you’ve done it.”

Seattle, who are already pushing to become the first MLS team to win the modern-day Concacaf Champions League, have proven to be a franchise with high ambitions and will want to win every trophy available to them this season. But in order to accomplish that feat and stay competitive in multiple competitions, Schmetzer understands they’ll need a collective team effort.

“We’re going to need everybody,” Schmetzer said postgame. “We’ve got Champions League games, and then you’ve got league play, and then you’ve got Open Cup, and then you have other tournaments. You have injuries through the course of the year, you have international issues. We’re going to need everybody. So, the young players have to step forward and help their teammates, the senior guys have to step forward and help their teammates, and the middle guys have to step forward and help their teammates.”

The Sounders will use the much-needed international break to rest up before returning to action April 2, when they visit Minnesota United FC before taking on New York City FC four days later in the first leg of the CCL semifinal series.