Following a friendly against the Portland Timbers last week, as well as some intra-squad bouts, the Seattle Sounders will play their final preseason match on Saturday against the USL’s San Diego Loyal SC.
The Sounders have had to shuffle some things in the offseason, most notably introducing a new formation that features two forwards, and this weekend’s game will provide the last chance for Head Coach Brian Schmetzer and his staff to make adjustments before the 2021 Major League Season kicks off next week.
“Tomorrow has to be a final tune-up to make sure that we’ve given them the right tools to be successful,” said Schmetzer in a press conference with reporters on Friday. “I am confident that the two forwards is a good system, regardless of the final outcome of how we set the team up.”
The Sounders may also be without playmaker and captain Nicolás Lodeiro, who is dealing with what Schmetzer called a niggling injury. He along with Jimmy Medranda are considered day-to-day, but Schmetzer isn’t concerned about their statuses long term. Instead, the team is focused on putting in a good shift against the Loyal.
“The good thing about playing a team like San Diego is that I think they’re going to be really hungry to prove themselves,” said center back Shane O’Neill. “They’re going to know that this is a really good opportunity for them to play in front of an MLS staff and in front of MLS opposition.”
Good news for the Sounders is the return of forward Raúl Ruidíaz, who came back to Seattle this week after receiving his United States green card. The Peruvian marksman has thrived as the main talisman in Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1 formation in the past, but Schmetzer thinks the addition of another forward will only help Ruidíaz build off his 2020 MLS Best XI selection.
“[Ruidíaz is] really happy to be back with the group,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a smart guy, so I’m not concerned that he’s not going to be able to pick up on some of the nuances of playing with another guy next to him or in the same area. Just happy that we finally have him back.”
Ruidíaz and his running mate up front, either Will Bruin or the newly reacquired Fredy Montero, will have to try and make up for the lost production of winger Jordan Morris, whose loan spell with English Championship side Swansea City was cut short after sustaining a knee injury that returned him to Seattle and will keep him sidelined indefinitely. Also a 2020 MLS Best XI selection, Morris’ influence on matches is arguably irreplaceable, but it’s something the Sounders are keen on remedying to the best of their ability.
“I don’t know [how to replace Morris],” Schmetzer said candidly. “I wish I had the answer. Jordan was such an integral part of our team…It has to be by committee.”
Seattle will also have to adjust to life without recent mainstays in Gustav Svensson, Kelvin Leerdam and Joevin Jones, all of whom departed in the offseason.
“Jordan is a big loss for sure,” said O’Neill. “All those guys who left are big losses, there’s no question about that. Jordan is right up there. Kelvin, JJ, Gustav. We’re going to have to find ways to compete and win games without those guys. Our focus has to come into this group now. Jordan is a big time loss, but the way that this team is set up, we’re going to adapt and learn how to win games in other ways.”
Seattle will have six days after the San Diego scrimmage to get everything in order ahead of the MLS season opener next Friday against Minnesota United (6:30 p.m. PT; FS1). Of note, the Sounders and Lumen Field will have fans in the stands for the first time in over a year, a promising sign after a difficult year both on and off the pitch.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Schmetzer said. “We want the fans back, and we want them back safely. Those are our two main drivers of all of this. It’s important that we stay safe. Our stadium becomes more ominous for the opposition. It gives us a true home-field advantage. We saw that in the playoffs last year. Our home fans mean a lot. Yes, we miss them. A little bit more patience, we’re almost there. We’re going to get there.”