Back in January, Seattle Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey spoke of the team’s potential and ambitions heading into the 2019 campaign.
“We’re at the mature part of our cycle,” Lagerwey said at the first day of preseason training. “We’ve talked about how this is our prime. We have [Nicolás] Lodeiro and [Raúl] Ruidíaz to build the team around under contract for multiple years, we have most of our other starters in their primes – this is something where we’re really excited about the season.”
Although the team had its fair share of struggles throughout the regular season, largely driven by international call-ups and injuries, the Rave Green still managed to acquire the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
With home field advantage secured, the veteran-laden roster that Lagerwey praised back in January is primed for an electric run in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“When it comes to the Cup, you never know what happens,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said after training on Thursday. “It’s a tournament. I’m happy with where we’re at, and I think we have enough veterans that have been there before. They realize what kind of opportunity this is for them as individuals, but for us as a team, as well.”
Under the new structure, teams compete in a fixed-bracket, single-elimination format. Gone are the days of cagey two-legged affairs, interrupted by lengthy international breaks.
While 2019 marks the first iteration of the new format, several key contributors, such as Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Lodeiro and Frei, will all remember the tense play-in match against Sporting Kansas City that sparked a run to the 2016 MLS Cup.
“That’s the kind of atmosphere and nervous energy you’re going to get in some of these games,” Seattle Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer noted at training this week. “[Experience] Is important. All the internationals have had experience with their national teams playing in big games. It will be fine. I think our team is mentally ready.”
According to Frei, the presence of so many veterans on the roster gives the team perspective, placing extra importance on capitalizing on the chances in front of you.
“As a veteran, you have experience on the field, but you also have experience of realizing how precious opportunities are,” he said. “How few and far between they are. The more people you have that look at those things with passion and a sense of opportunity. This may be the last time I have an opportunity to win something. There’s a real sense of urgency that comes with experience.”
Seattle’s roster is filled with players who’ve been here before. They know what it takes to not only reach the MLS Cup final, but to lift it. When the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs commence for Seattle on October 19, they’ll know what’s at stake and they won’t let this opportunity slip through their fingers.
They’re built for this.
“I think with being veteran also comes the realization: how much longer are you a veteran for?” added Frei. “There’s no time to waste in someone’s career. When you have an opportunity, as frustrating as this season was, we are in a really good situation in terms of potentially finding ourselves at home for a few games. And then who knows what happens?