Freshly returned home from their historic trip to Morocco where they were the first-ever MLS club to compete at the FIFA Club World Cup, there's no time to waste for the Seattle Sounders.
The Rave Green's 2023 MLS regular-season opener is just around the corner, with roughly two weeks now to go before the marathon kicks off against the Colorado Rapids at Lumen Field on Feb. 26.
While the sting still lingers from their last-minute 1-0 Second Round defeat in Club World Cup action against Egyptian side Al Ahly, a critical two-week stretch of training now lies ahead, with an opportunity to use the accelerated preseason to build momentum ahead of Seattle’s league campaign.
"I think we have to make this count," said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. "You have a bit of a break now and you can almost feel like it can be a reboot, a restart. I don't want it to be a restart. I want it to be something to build on. Let's not let this hard work we put in go to waste and say, 'Ok, now we have another start.'”
"We started January 4. We put in hard work. It's about pride in your work and then reaping the rewards of that hard work. So, in my opinion, we've been working hard for a month-plus at this point. There's no reason for us to cast any of that aside. It's even more of a reason to really harness all that energy and positivity that we've created and build upon it."
In addition to the physical fitness, Frei said that the trip to Morocco was crucial for team-building and camaraderie, which is always fostered on lengthy international trips.
Along with that, the players and staff are continuing to implement tactical changes and adjustments deemed necessary from last season.
"I'd also argue that getting out of your comfort zone of [Arizona] and [California], it really pushes the team together," Frei added. "So, in terms of unity I think the players are all a pretty tight group and that's going to go a long way in this long grueling season, so happy with that.”
"We went into preseason analyzing some of the shortcomings of last year and what we wanted to maybe look at and work on. This is the only time where we can really try to do that, so I think we've learned a few things with that in preseason. We gained a whole bunch of fitness obviously, which is the biggest point."
Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said the message from his staff has also been one of maximizing their opportunity over the next two weeks.
The 2023 campaign is set to be jam-packed, with the 34-match schedule also including US Open Cup fixtures and a midseason break for the revamped edition of the 2023 Leagues Cup, which will set MLS clubs against Liga MX opponents.
Depth will be tested, and fitness will be paramount in anticipation of the rigorous grind.
"The message is: Our home opener is not too far away. So, that's life, that's reality," said Schmetzer. "We have to push past this. The Club World Cup was a great experience, proud of the fact that we were the first MLS team to accomplish that and actually get a chance to play in that tournament.”
"But now league season is coming and we need to prepare for that."