LOS ANGELES — Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei had already helped plan a team get-together that was set to take place after Seattle’s Western Conference Final match against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium.
Whether Seattle won or lost, Frei said after the West Final, the plan was for the squad to assemble at his place to cook food and hang out. With a loss, it would've probably been the last time some players saw others in person.
Instead, Frei's shindig will be a joyous one after the Sounders pulled off a shocking upset, knocking off LAFC 3-1 in front of its home Banc of California stadium crowd to clinch Seattle’s third Western Conference championship in four years. And as they assemble, Seattle will get to relax and take in the Eastern Conference Final between Toronto FC and Atlanta United, knowing they'll face the winner.
And if it's Toronto, they'd get to host MLS Cup for the first time.
“We’re going to enjoy each other’s company, celebrate a little bit because there’s a bit of a gap," Frei said. "Then focus on who you have to play against. But obviously you want to play at home. That would be ridiculous, to play for a trophy at home.”
Of course, Seattle and Toronto are no strangers at this time of year, having previously met in MLS Cup in 2016 and 2017. The Sounders won the first matchup on penalty kicks in 2016, before TFC earned a convincing 2-0 victory in 2017.
But both those matches were at icy BMO Field and the Sounders still haven’t hosted a championship of their own. Should they this year, coach Brian Schmetzer said, it would mean everything to the franchise.
“Of course, we would rather be at home,” he said. “We would rather be at home in front of our fans. That would be a very good thing for our franchise, for our fans. But, of course, we will just be happy we made it into MLS Cup and we will obviously be watching the [East final].”
Added midfielder Cristian Roldan: “The fact of the matter is, it’s two teams that are really good. We have a big opponent in front of us, whether it’s Atlanta or Toronto. But, sure, I’d love to play at home in front of our fans, like we’ve deserved in the past, but now unfortunately it’s not in our hands.
“But we’ll be rooting for a home game for sure.”
Afterward, it’ll be back to business for Seattle — something Schmetzer said he’ll be sure to remind his players of after they’ve come down from the glow of Tuesday.
“We still have one game left,” Schmetzer said. “I need to make sure and remind everybody, this wasn’t the championship. I’m gonna go in there and tell them that they’ve got training on Friday. We have to get back to work. We’re not done yet.”