The Seattle Sounders will look to add one more exclamation point on Sunday to what has already been a club record start to the 2021 MLS season. The Rave Green host newcomers Austin FC at Lumen Field (6:30 p.m. PT; FS1, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS) in the final match before three weeks off for a FIFA international break.
Austin started strong, going 2-1-0 in its first three matches, but Los Verdes have hit a rough patch recently, losing their last three contests entering this weekend. Austin has played every match on the road while awaiting the opening of its new stadium on June 19.
“I think Austin has done very well,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “[Austin Head Coach] Josh [Wolff] has done a good job. He had a good mentor in Gregg Berhalter [at Columbus Crew SC and the United States Men’s National Team]. He certainly had a great playing career. He’s an accomplished soccer person.
“Our objective will be to come out on the front foot, put pressure on them and see if we can interrupt their possession sequences,” he added. “We did not have many extended possession sequences against Atlanta, and we’ll try and change that.”
Austin is led by Designated Players Cecilio Domínguez and Tomás Pochettino, a Paraguayan forward and Argentine midfielder, respectively. Although Pochettino hasn’t had anything to show for it in the stat column — he has zero goals and assists in five matches — he’s still one of Austin’s most dangerous attacking options going forward and capable of making a match-winning play.
“It’s going to be about containment, making sure that they don’t have any options going forward,” said Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe. “I think we’ve done a very good job of allowing teams to have little bits of possession, but they don’t have anything in the final play because we have so many guys who are good at blocking crosses or stopping crosses. We’re not easy to break down. It’s not just myself, João Paulo and Cristian Roldan in the middle, but we have to make sure that our back line is hard to break down and willing to do the work, which we always are.”
The Sounders took a somber blow on Friday, as Schmetzer revealed that captain Nicolás Lodeiro and goalkeeper and vice captain Stefan Frei had setbacks in their respective recoveries. Lodeiro had arthroscopic knee surgery to try and reduce inflammation he’s been suffering from that has limited him to just 24 minutes of action so far this year. Frei, meanwhile, suffered a blood clot as a result of the sprained knee that he injured against the San Jose Earthquakes on May 12.
Losing that type of quality is never easy, but perhaps just as important is the leadership aspect that both veterans provide. The Sounders are determined to keep up their form and rely on one another even more.
“You have the obvious [leaders] of Cristian Roldan, Will Bruin and even João Paulo,” said Rowe. “You have to hold each other accountable, and it can’t just be from the ‘leaders.’ It has to be from everyone. I think you’ve seen that in training, guys getting after each other in a positive way. Tackles getting stuck in and guys fighting for spots, and that’s what keeps teams rolling. Especially with this good start that we’ve had, we want to continue this, and that takes everyone.”