After three months and three different preseason training camp locations, the Sounders are ready to begin their 2020 campaign.
The debut is Thursday against CD Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16. The tournament’s two-legged aggregate series format opens at the Honduran side’s Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula. Seattle will host the second match Feb. 27 at CenturyLink Field.
“Everybody is anxious,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer after wrapping up the final training camp in Mexico City last week. The club also trained in Southern California and at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.
“We as a club have placed the Champions League up there pretty high,” Schmetzer continued. “We’ve tried to make sure we’ve learned lessons from the games we’ve played in Champions League in the past (and) it’s been a marker that, not just the Seattle Sounders but leaguewide, we want a MLS team to win. I say, ‘Why not us?’”
Seattle qualified for the Champions League by winning the MLS Cup in November, the club’s second league title. Olimpia qualified by finishing in the top six in 2019 CONCACAF League play.
No MLS club has ever won the regional tournament, which has undergone multiple format changes since it was established in 1962. Olimpia’s best finish was the quarterfinals in 2015, while the Sounders are 16-5-5 all time in Champions League competitions.
Here’s a primer for Thursday’s match.
Where to watch
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. PST. U.S. residents can view the match on Fox Sports 2 in English or TUDN in Spanish. Those in Canada can watch online at TSN.ca/TSN App. The match will not be broadcast on the radio in the U.S.
Rusty or ready?
The five MLS clubs competing in the Champions League began on-field training Jan. 14. Seattle played friendlies against minor league clubs of various styles but didn’t keep the majority of their starters in the match a full 90 minutes until the last tuneup in Mexico City.
Olimpia, however, has played eight matches in its competitive Liga Nacional, scoring 10 goals during their current three-game unbeaten streak.
The Sounders are also adjusting to the altitude, which is why the club trained in Mexico City.
“It would be nice to be in the middle of the season to be fully fit and really go at this team full strength,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “They (Olimpia) are a good team. They don’t overcomplicate things. They have good players that are very athletic, so it’s going to be a tough matchup.”
That fighting feeling
Roldan is the only player who saw minutes in Seattle’s 2-1 win against Olimpia in 2015. Former defender Brad Evans scored the winning goal in the 97th minute, which was followed by a skirmish on the CenturyLink turf.
The result helped Seattle advance from group play, and they ultimately lost in the Champions League quarterfinals.
“It’s two different teams,” Roldan said of the roster overhauls on both sides. “You’ll see that same fiery end to it in this game. They obviously need a good result at home and we need to put ourselves in a good spot moving forward. So, you’ll see a very intense game and that’s because it’s translating over from our previous matchup.”
Players to watch
The Sounders are expected to unveil their new back line, which will include Columbian center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade. Although the recent signee is still finalizing paperwork to work in the U.S., Gomez Andrade was able to participate in the team’s full training in Mexico City and is eligible to play against Olimpia.
“I love watching him play,” Schmetzer said. “There were a couple of times where he comes in for challenges and I almost have to turn away because I think someone is going to get hurt. And it’s not Yeimar. He’s been very good.”
Also expected to be in the starting lineup is Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo, who was added as a designated player in January.
The only questionable player is co-captain Nico Lodeiro. The center midfielder missed part of training camp to undergo treatment for tendinitis in his native Uruguay earlier this month.
“His long-term health is way more important than just this game,” Schmetzer said. “I have to weigh the risks. … He had the same issue last year; he just doesn’t want to play through the pain again. So, I’m going to be a bit conservative. I want to get him right for the (MLS) season.”
Olimpia has a few players who have MLS experience in midfielder Cristian Maidana (2014-16) and forward Jerry Bengston (2012-14). Defender Ever Alvarado is a former Sounders trialist.
But lately, Columbian striker Yustin Arboleda has been deadly in the attack for Olimpia. The 28-year-old was signed in December.