TUKWILA, Wash. – For the Seattle Sounders, the challenge over the next few days is keeping things normal during a week where nothing is normal at all.
This is, of course, MLS Cup week – with Seattle earning the right to host the league’s championship match at CenturyLink Field with their epic road upset of LAFC in last Tuesday’s Western Conference Final in Los Angeles.
It worked out about as well as possible for the Sounders when Toronto FC notched its own road upset of Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference bracket, sending them through to the final and cementing CenturyLink as the host venue. But being the host comes with its own set of challenges compared to Seattle’s previous two MLS Cup appearances, which saw them travel to Toronto in 2016 and 2017.
Speaking to reporters at training on Wednesday, Sounders defender Brad Smith said he feels as though the dust has settled, and the team has been able to shift its focus from the euphoria of the LAFC match to the task at hand.
“Obviously, the result in LA was very emotional for everyone involved in the club,” Smith said. “Watching the next game was also very emotional after realizing we were going to play at home. We’ve kind of got the emotions away over the next few days and this week we’re just focusing on training. Normal game week, just preparing as normal for this game.”
That said, there still is undeniably a different type of buzz that comes with playing host to an event like this.
The media presence at Starfire Sports Complex on Wednesday vastly exceeded what you would see during the regular season, or even earlier in the playoffs. Smith said he’s felt the same energy around the city too, with tickets to the game selling out almost immediately after they went on the market to the public and a crowd of 69,000 expected to turn out for the match.
“You can tell the vibe around the city, even just walking around and going into shops and stuff, we’ve had a lot of great support from the fans and the media, it’s a big buzz around this game,” Smith said. “It’s at home, we’re confident, we’re happy, we just had the biggest win of the year and we’re ready to go for this one.”
It can be easy to forget amidst all the madness, but the Sounders still have an actual game to play, with a good, experienced and familiar opponent standing between them and their second championship in four years.
Seattle put on a tactical master-class in procuring the road victory against an LAFC squad that was considered by many to be the best in MLS history, but midfielder Gustav Svensson said it’s imperative that his team meets or exceeds that level of intensity and execution on Sunday, against a veteran Toronto team that knows how to get results on the road.
“I think we did a great job in LA, but I think we have to match it or even do better,” Svensson said. “It’s a final, it’s a big game, it’s two teams that will fight until the end. We had a good tactical game in LA, but we need to match that, at least.
“I think we have to make sure we are compact, we have to make sure we don’t give Toronto too much space, they have good players. And we just have to give the ball to Raúl [Ruidíaz].”