SEATTLE – Ahead of the most anticipated match in club history, the Seattle Sounders are keeping it loose.
The Sounders hit the training ground for the last time in 2019 on Saturday — not at their usual practice facility of Starfire Soccer Complex — but at CenturyLink Field, where they’ll be hosting Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Final Sunday (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TSN, TVAS).
The next time Seattle take that field, there will be 69,000 maniacal fans cheering them on in the most high-stakes soccer match in the history of the state, so, to state the obvious, it’s far from a normal week for the city and the club.
But speaking with reporters at his Saturday press conference packed with local and national media, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said the key to managing the situation comes down to keeping everything as normal as possible, adding he plans to maintain the same ritual he usually adheres to for other matches, including partaking in his beverage of choice.
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“We are going to do the same routine that we always do,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll have our team meal, we’ll do whatever last-minute film we need to do, we’ll treat it as a normal game. Normally my right-hand man [Director of Team Administration] Grant Clark and I like to go down into the local establishment, the bar underneath and have a glass of red wine, just unwind a little bit, relax.
“Then, it’s normal. All of us coaches will go upstairs and watch more film, go over the details one more time. It’s just preparation for what our jobs are. Our jobs are to give the players the tools to be successful and we want to make sure we do that.”
Keeping a level head through the circus-like atmosphere that comes with being the MLS Cup host city is certainly a challenge the Sounders have been contending with all week, and they also know they have an opponent in Toronto FC that have plenty of big-game experience and knowledge on how to procure road results.
As far as his messaging to the team, however, Schmetzer said he hasn’t felt the need to change it up much in that department, given the veteran pedigree and experience he has on his own side.
“We had to go and play an away against the best team of the year, LAFC, so both teams are very experienced in these big situations,” he said. “I believe Roman Torres, Nico Lodeiro, Raul [Ruidiaz], Cristian [Roldan], Jordan [Morris], Stef [Frei], we’ve all played in big matches.
“The messaging really hasn’t been that dramatic. It’s not like, ‘Ok, you need to worry about this, or worry about this,’ I want them to play normal. I want them to play obviously to the event, but the messaging hasn’t been anything dramatic.”
With all that in mind, the vibe at Saturday’s training session was a light one by design, coming off the painstaking preparation, film study and high-intensity drills that have been taking place at Starfire throughout the week. While Sunday’s final is going to be a pressure-packed affair, Schmetzer said, he also finds it important to let his players enjoy the moment.
“Today, we’re going to let them have fun,” Schmetzer said. “We’re going to go out there and try and let them warm up because it is a little bit cold and rainy, we’re going to let them play 5-v-2, we’re going to play our little small-sided games and we’re just going to try and let them do what they normally do. They’re young men, but some of them still act like kids, and they still like to play. We’re just going to let them play today.”