The 2017 MLS schedules are firm, and the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders certainly aren’t complaining about their current lot in life.
Thursday’s schedule release was more kind to some than others, and it would seem that at least on the surface, the Sounders will have few complaints. At no point in the season do the Sounders have a road trip longer than three consecutive games. And even then, there’s only one of those, and it’s entirely limited to the West Coast: San Jose (April 8), Vancouver (April 14) and Los Angeles (April 23).
What’s more, Seattle avoids lengthy East Coast trips to New England, Orlando, Toronto, Atlanta, D.C. and one to the New York Red Bulls. Things could most definitely be worse.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick tour around the Sounders’ schedule and pluck out the five most intriguing games of 2017 in chronological order. Be prepared for week after week of intense games. Everyone charges that much harder against the team with the gold star on their chests.
Montreal Impact, March 11 (Olympic Stadium)
It isn’t often the Sounders duck into an environment as rowdy as CenturyLink Field. In fact, it probably never happens in MLS. Part of that is sheer stadium size, of course, but the broader factor is noise. Nobody generates the jet wash Sounders fans do. That’ll be tested, though, when the Sounders play 2016 Eastern Conference finalist Montreal in the second game of the year. The Impact opted to make this an Olympic Stadium match in lieu of hosting it at their normal environs at Stade Saputo. That bumps the capacity to some 60,000, and in these full-stadium games the Impact tend to clock sellouts (or at least get close to it. The Impact sold out with 61,004 fans at their home leg of the Eastern Conference Championship versus Toronto FC last season). This will almost certainly be the biggest road crowd the Sounders face all season.
Atlanta United, March 31 (CenturyLink Field)
The Sounders only face expansion club Atlanta United once a year thanks to conference alignment, and Seattle will have to wait until 2018 for its first cross-country trip to the ATL. That’s just fine with the Sounders, who host an intriguing and relatively unknown Atlanta team with the benefit of only three matches of preparatory game film. Atlanta United’s been a model club to this point, compiling a competent backroom staff, a handful of young on-field difference-makers and a coach in Argentine Tata Martino who’s coached Leo Messi for club (Barcelona) and country (Argentina). That said, Atlanta United will be a mystery until they play their first game, from style to formation to tendency to everything in between. That’ll only heighten the excitement as the Sounders open their doors to their first expansion team since Orlando City in 2015. That game ended with a 4-0 Sounders win. Not bad auspices.
Toronto FC, May 6 (CenturyLink Field)
The last time we saw the Sounders, they were heartily celebrating in an otherwise deathly silent BMO Field after capturing the first MLS Cup trophy in franchise history. Toronto FC might’ve had the run of play and the majority of the goal-scoring chances, but the Sounders were a steel trap at the back and Stefan Frei put in the performance of his career. A Roman Torres match-winning penalty later and the Sounders dug the stake into a crestfallen TFC locker room.
It’s been a long offseason for TFC already, and they’ll no doubt be chomping at the bit to exact revenge. Luckily for the Sounders, this time the meeting is on home turf in Seattle, the only one on the calendar between the two. Seattle actually hasn’t lost to TFC in nearly three years, a streak they’ll hope to keep alive early in the season.
Portland Timbers, May 27 (CenturyLink Field)
Let’s be honest: The Sounders and Timbers could’ve finished in the bottom two slots of the Western Conference in 2016, and this would still be the most anticipated game of the season league-wide. As it happens, this game pits each of the last two MLS Cup champs against one another in a rivalry that didn’t need any extra kindling to spark. So while the Sounders regale the traveling Timbers hopeful in their first meeting of the year with chants about being defending champs, the Timbers will no doubt shout back exhortations about having done it first. So it goes in the most volatile rivalry in the league. The Timbers and Sounders have enough talent back to feel good about the chance of winning another Cascadia Cup — surprisingly enough the Vancouver Whitecaps won it in 2016 — and the fact that the first is at CenturyLink Field is a nice way to kick off the year.
Minnesota United, Aug. 5 (TCF Bank Stadium)
After facing Atlanta in late March, the Sounders have to wait another four months before facing the other newcomer to the league. Unlike Atlanta United, Minnesota United wasn’t formed out of nothing, and coach Adrian Heath is hardly an unknown within league circles. From that aspect, and with the benefit of far more preparatory materials, this game should be a bit easier on the scouting department. That said, the Sounders have never played in Minnesota before.
The Loons don’t open their own stadium until 2018, and until then they’re shacking up in the University of Minnesota’s 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium. It’s a quality venue, but unknowns are around every corner. How does the field surface play? What’s the weather environment like in August? What can you expect from Minnesota’s fan support? All questions that’ll have to wait until August for answers.