TUKWILA, Wash. – Whenever the Seattle Sounders take on Atlanta United, it’s a matchup that always carries a little bit of extra luster.
How could it not? Aside from being the league’s defending champions, Atlanta currently hold a title that used to belong to the Sounders: The flashy, precedent-defying, new kids on the block, who took the league by storm from day one of their MLS existence in 2017.
As such, matches between the sides like the one that will take place at CenturyLink Field on Sunday (3:55 pm ET | ESPN & ESPN Deportes in USA; TSN1 in Canada) always make for some good pregame talking points between the fan bases. Atlanta supporters would cite their record-breaking attendance numbers and last year’s MLS Cup title in their second year of existence as evidence they’ve usurped Seattle as the standard-bearer for what an MLS expansion club can do.
Sounders supporters would counter by contending it was Seattle that set the stage for Atlanta to do all that, a point head coach Brian Schmetzer (photo below) alluded to in diplomatic fashion on Wednesday.
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“There’s a lot of good things that Atlanta has done that they actually learned from us,” Schmetzer said. “A lot of teams, not all of them, but a lot of teams come to Seattle when they’re in expansion mode and say, ‘What did you guys do? How did you accomplish this?’ I think that’s just a symbol of what we did to start us off. And it’s just good business because the league wants to grow together. It’s great that Atlanta is pushing the envelope.”
From the players’ perspective, Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said he’s not concerned with using the match as any sort of statement about where Seattle ranks in the league’s hierarchy, echoing Schmetzer’s sentiment that teams like Atlanta and LAFC continuing to raise the bar can only be good for the league as a whole.
“That’s probably more a fan thing with bragging rights on who has the best fans and they probably take that more seriously than we do,” Frei said. “I think it’s great to see an expansion team come in with such ambitions. Obviously [Atlanta] came in with a lot of money as well, that training facility, the player acquisitions they make – it’s going to drive the standard of this league, it’s going to keep increasing that standard.”
Even so, it’s the type of match you can’t help but get up for, midfielder Cristian Roldan said. The sides have met twice in MLS play with both matches ending in hard-fought draws.
That means it’s a three-point result that could provide the ultimate bragging rights as much as anything.
“Any time you play a big club, you get up for those games,” Roldan said. “This is a team that has been doing well for two-and-a-half years now. They haven’t [won] against us and I think we can continue that.
“I think we can establish or showcase what we’ve been doing really well for the last 10 years or so. So, it’s a big game in the sense that we have returning guys coming back playing in a big meaningful game on national television and them having their guys back and ready to rock.”