Tackles flew around the training field at Starfire on Tuesday as the Sounders broke into teams for a scrimmage in their second day back from a four-day break.
The game wasn’t quite as crisp as a Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, but that was the point for head coach Sigi Schmid, who was getting his players back into a playing rhythm after taking well-deserved time off after a rigorous month of May.
“When you have a break, it always takes you a bit of time to get back into the rhythm and into the groove of what you’re doing. Generally, teams stutter a bit when they come back from those breaks,” Schmid said. “You want to make sure the first time you get thumped or first time you get thrown to the ground isn’t in the Montreal game. We had a little bit of that here today, but it was good. We had some good ball movement early, and it’s good for the guys to get 50 minutes in.”
The break in the MLS calendar, scheduled to make way for international competitions like the European Championships and the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, also means that the Sounders will take on a heavy load of games in coming weeks.
The Sounders will open a stretch of seven games in 22 days on Saturday when they open Saputo Stadium in Montreal against the expansion Impact. Five of Seattle’s next seven games will be on the road, including trips to Montreal and New England, as well as their quarterfinal US Open Cup match against the San Jose Earthquakes at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
The grueling late-June calendar is nothing new to the Sounders though. From April 28 until May 12, they played five matches in 15 days, going 4-1-0 with wins in Chicago and Dallas. They followed that up one week later with a stretch of four games in 12 days, finished off with a 5-1 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks in the Open Cup.
“When you start grinding out a lot of games and practices it gets to be hard. Once you get a couple of days off though, you can’t wait to get back on the field,” said defender Marc Burch, who has missed only one of Seattle’s 17 matches across all competitions. “Some of us definitely needed the break and take time to let our bodies heal and come back out and get ready for our next stretch of games.”
While Burch, Fredy Montero, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and David Estrada saw the lion’s share of the minutes during the team’s busy stretch of games, young players also had opportunities to shine. Alex Caskey and Andy Rose saw extended minutes in the midfield, while Cordell Cato started both Open Cup matches. Goalkeeper Bryan Meredith started eight matches, including two US Open Cup games, after starter Michael Gspurning suffered a hip injury.
“It became a very good period of time, especially with the Open Cup games, for Caskey, for Andy Rose and Cordell Cato to prove their mettle and what they can do,” Schmid said. “Those players gained confidence, but the rest of the players also gained confidence in those players. It’s more comforting because now we know what those guys can do.”
Now the Sounders also enter their next tough stretch on the calendar with the possibility of adding more healthy players back into the rotation, as Leo Gonzalez and Patrick Ianni look to be nearing their returns to fitness.
Although they know the road ahead is daunting, the players can’t help but follow the clichéd coaching line when approaching the upcoming schedule.
“We’ll take one game at a time,” Burch said. “You have to. You just need to get three points on Saturday, then we’ll look to the next one.”