For Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, the upcoming 2020 Concacaf Champions League campaign carries challenges beyond attempting to become the first-ever MLS club to win the continental trophy.
That’s objective No. 1, to be sure. But throughout preseason, Schmetzer has stressed that the organization is hoping to take lessons from its last CCL venture in 2018, when the Sounders failed at managing the balance of the tournament's demands and their league schedule.
After reaching a second consecutive MLS Cup final in 2017, the Sounders exited the 2018 CCL in the second round and limped out of the gate in the league. They required a furious midseason turnaround to make the playoffs, a fate Schmetzer says he’s intent on avoiding in 2020.
“I tried to do it organizationally,” Schmetzer told reporters on a Wednesday conference call from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “I’ve challenged all the equipment staff, sports science, medical, coaching staff, myself — I challenged myself first — the players have heard the message. We won’t know, really, until we get out there the first couple games early on in the year just exactly if that message was well received or whether we need to say it a little firmer, a little bit harder.
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“I think all the guys have had enough time to reflect back on what a tremendous end to 2019 that was. But I think all of them, going back to camp [in Mexico City], I think that was a really good way to send the message — don’t send it backwards. I think our preparation has been good.”
Seattle faces a Club Olimpia side in San Pedro Sula on Thursday (10 pm ET | FS2, TUDN) that is already eight games into its league schedule and thus fully matchfit. To combat that disadvantage, the Sounders have been working through high-intensity training sessions at altitude in Mexico City.
Those sessions also gave Schmetzer an extended look at two of the club’s new signings that the Sounders hope will pay dividends in CCL in Colombian center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo.
Gomez Andrade had a quick learning curve, only joining the club at the start of training camp in Mexico, but Schmetzer said he’s been pleased with how quickly his new defender has adapted.
“Having him there for entire 12 days that we had [in Mexico] was critical for him to assimilate into the team,” Schmetzer said. “I love watching him play. He’s a very physically gifted athlete. He’s extremely fast. He’s good in the air. He’s not Chad Marshall good in the air, but he’s certainly very, very good in the air. What I like about him is that he’s aggressive. You need to have big, strong, aggressive center backs. I think the pairing of Yeimar and Xavi [Arreaga], I think that’s going to work very well this year.”
It’s a long way off from becoming a reality, but the historical implications of a CCL title for Seattle would be massive, even compared to other MLS participants in this year’s competition. With two MLS Cup titles in the last four years, becoming the league’s first CCL-winner would solidify them among the league's all-time greatest sides.
“We would love to be in a Concacaf Champions League final,” Schmetzer said. “I think it’s a very challenging road, but I would bet on my team in final over two legs, I think we’d have a pretty good shot at it. So, we’re excited, we’d love to be there. Whatever statement that makes about the league, all the national broadcasters will [talk] about. I would just look at it from a Seattle perspective, it’s something we as a franchise and an organization certainly covet.”