For the first time in 2020, the Seattle Sounders took the pitch to face off against another opponent.
Even though the Sounders, fielding a mixture of senior First Team players and talented youngsters from the Academy and Tacoma Defiance, fell 1-0 to Club Atlético Peñarol, the team came away from the experience feeling optimistic as they build momentum toward Concacaf Champions League.
“I think we did a good job,” said midfielder Gustav Svensson. “It’s always difficult [in] the first game to get the rhythm of the game. Training is one thing, playing a game is another thing. Playing against an opponent who challenges you in every duel, challenges you in every run. It’s always good to get that first game out of your system.”
Asked about his first impressions of playing alongside Svensson, Kelvin Leerdam, Stefan Frei and Joevin Jones, new signing Shane O’Neill, who put in an impressive performance against Peñarol’s dynamic attacking corps, offered plenty of praise for his new teammates following the match.
“Obviously it makes a world of a difference when you’re playing next to that kind of quality,” said O’Neill. “It’s something for me that I’ve obviously really enjoyed my first couple of weeks being here. I think it gives you confidence playing next to players like that.”
The match was divvied up into three, 30-minute intervals, with First Team players exiting at the half-hour mark and making way for the young guys. After the match, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer complimented all of the young guys on a job well done, singling out midfielders Chris Hegardt, Danny Robles and Josh Atencio as well as center backs Antino Lopez and Sam Rogers.
“We’ve got a lot of good kids here and that was a good test,” said Schmetzer. “It was a good exercise for us as coaches to see if they can measure up.”
Atencio, 17, put in a strong, two-way shift as the No. 6, breaking up Peñarol’s counterattacks and playing a key role in Seattle controlling possession for the final 60 minutes. After the match, the young midfielder, who notched a goal and an assist in 2,078 minutes of USL Championship action with the Defiance in 2019, noted the value of learning from First Team guys in his position.
“You learn a lot from the guys ahead of you,” said Atencio. “Like when you see these other teams, you try to add those things to your game. When you see players like Gustav and [Jordy] Delem and Danny [Leyva], and how they do the things you want to get better at.”
Tacoma Defiance midfielder Ray Serrano squeezes through a pair of Club Peñarol players on Wednesday morning | Mike Fiechtner
Asked about coaching against Diego Forlan, Schmetzer noted he was happy to see his young players be awe-struck meeting the Uruguay and Atlético Madrid legend.
“What I loved is some of our Academy kids went over and wanted photos with him because he’s such a big star,” he said. “That makes me feel good because they’re students of the game. They know who he is, and they wanted his photo.”
The team will enjoy a couple of days of rest and recuperation before returning to their usual training regimen on Saturday.