On March 7, the Sounders FC is playing arguably the biggest game in club history when they host Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
Beyond that series, the Sounders would be a mere four games away from reaching the FIFA Club World Cup in December in Japan, where they would meet the regional champions from around the world.
With that much magnitude in matches so early in the season, the intensity of the training camp has been more clear and regimented than in any of the club’s previous three seasons.\
Seattle has seven matches on the preseason calendar, each with a pointed focus toward the opening game against Santos Laguna.
Each of the next three Wednesday’s the Sounders will play exhibition matches to get the players adjusted to the rhythm of playing matches each week. There will be other preseason matches mixed in, but the Wednesday matches will become the gauge by which the players will be measured as Sigi Schmid prepares his starting group for that all-important Champions League series.
“There’s only so much you can do because we can’t replicate a league schedule,” Schmid said. “So what we’ve got to try and do is create some games that will replicate at least the intensity that they’re going to have as they go into the game with Santos Laguna.”
The first of these matches will be February 15 in Bradenton, Florida, against the Columbus Crew. The next will come February 22 in Cancun, Mexico, against CF Atlante. And the final round of preparation will come in the club’s Community Shield match at CenturyLink Field against Jaguares de Chiapas.
Santos Laguna sits atop the Mexican Primera Division’s Clausura standings through five matches and will be nine matches deep in the season by the time they meet the Sounders at CenturyLink. With two Mexican opponents on the preseason schedule, Schmid is looking to mimic their CCL opponent as much as possible in the latter stages of the preseason.
“They’re probably the best team in Mexico right now in terms of form and the way they’re playing. So we have to try and make sure we’re sharp when we go into the game because they’re a team that is sharp coming off a lot of league games,” Schmid said. “We can’t replicate the league schedule, but we try and do little things that try and make it as realistic as we can.”
That begins with the next phase of training camp, as the Sounders depart for Bradenton, Florida, on Saturday.
Their first match in Florida comes Monday against Orlando City SC. They then meet Columbus on Wednesday, followed by a game Thursday against the US U-17 National Team and Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast University.