TUKWILA, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders aren’t exactly accustomed to road trips like the one they’re about to take to Atlanta.
The Sounders are used to being the spectacle. But when Seattle take on Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday (2 pm ET | FOX - Full TV & Streaming Info), they’ll be rolling into the only venue in MLS that draws bigger crowds than they do, to take on an opponent on a mission to supplant them as the league’s gold standard in terms of what an new team can achieve at the outset of its existence.
That might make for somewhat unfamiliar territory, but speaking with reporters this week, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said he hopes the magnitude of the stage ends up being a net positive.
“I think our guys are used to big crowds and big atmospheres,” Schmetzer said on Thursday. “We’ve got a lot of big-time players who have played in big venues, pressure moments, stuff like that. I don’t think there’s anything negative about it. I’m hoping it actually has the opposite effect – that we go down there and go, ‘Hey, this is really cool, this is a big event. Let’s get after it.’ That’s what I’m hoping for.”
If the Sounders blazed the trail with their success out of the gate in their expansion season of 2009 – both in terms of fan support and the on-field product -- Atlanta are currently in the process of pushing that to the next level in their second MLS season. Home crowds at Mercedes-Benz Stadium are known to push 70,000 – a number the Sounders have yet to hit despite their own sterling attendance numbers.
The Five Stripes are pushing the envelope on the field too, with a high-priced, star-studded attacking juggernaut of a roster that currently has them leading the Supporters’ Shield standings. They may have taken parts of the blueprint from Seattle’s playbook, but Schmetzer said that’s just smart business, likening it to what the Sounders’ brass did when they visited other successful expansion franchises ahead of their ’09 MLS launch.
“If something worked, you’re going to go out there and try and find some information that might work in your particular market,” Schmetzer said. “So, kudos to them. They’ve done a great job. But you could say there were other teams in their era that were the trailblazers, the trendsetters. And we certainly think of ourselves as one of those teams.”
For Seattle, the stakes of Sunday’s match would be high enough even without all those external factors. The Sounders head into the weekend at 4-9-4 and 10 points below the playoff line for the postseason. They’re also currently last in MLS with just 15 goals in 17 matches.
With his paperwork coming through, newly signed Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz could be in line to make his team debut to offer some attacking reinforcements. But Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said priority No. 1 will have to be finding some way to stop an Atlanta attack that has netted 42 times and posted a +19 goal differential – both league-best numbers.
“I think they’ve played some very aggressive football, very attacking minded and obviously went out and purchased some high quality players,” said Frei. “Very dangerous side, very quick, very pacy, very young and energetic group. So, a difficult side to play against, especially at their place. It’s going to be difficult.”