TUKWILA, Wash. — A look to 2020 began with a reflection on the 2017 Sounders’ season for Brian Schmetzer.
Back then, the longtime coach was a first-time leader of an MLS-championship squad. Despite the club’s 2016 Cup being a wild and unforeseen run, it seemed everyone had the expectation the Sounders would repeat.
Instead, Seattle overcame a 4-6-4 start to the 2017 season to flop in the MLS Cup final against Toronto FC.
“In many ways (2016) was a bit of a blur for me,” said Schmetzer, who was promoted from assistant coach at midseason. “I felt we started 2017 a little bit complacent. We’d just won. … I don’t want that to happen again. I want next year, actually, that all of the departments — ourselves included — drive the level of our organization a little higher. That’s important, and that’s something I learned from 2016 to 2017.”
Schmetzer spoke of those plans Wednesday with Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey at the club’s Starfire Sports training facility. Within eyeshot of the pair at the media news conference were the 2016 and 2019 trophies sitting on a table alongside coffee and doughnuts.
The hardware almost felt passé as Lagerwey continued to push his goal of the club winning the CONCACAF Champions League. No MLS club has won the continental tournament among qualifiers from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Lagerwey will attend the draw for the 2020 seeding Dec. 9 in Mexico City. The two-legged Champions League begins Feb. 18-20 and 25-27. The quarterfinals are slated to take place in mid-March, followed by the semifinals in April.
The Sounders will open training camp Jan. 11 to begin preparations. Woven in between the Champions League is the MLS season as the defending champions.
“It’s going to be really hard, and we’re eagerly embracing that challenge,” Lagerwey said of winning the Champions League. He announced multiple roster decisions Wednesday that the organization hopes will retain the magic of this season.
Seattle is looking for depth and defense to avoid finishing like Toronto FC in 2018 when it went on a solid Champions League run but didn’t qualify for the MLS postseason.
“Overall, it might make us a little bit more conservative with some of our decision-making in terms of guys that have been-there, done-that for us will get the benefit of the doubt,” Lagerwey said. “Long-term, we have to look at things like we had the oldest roster in the league and we had the fewest minutes played by players under the age of 23, so there has to be some balance there. …We’re going to need more contributions likely from younger players if we’re going to navigate an MLS season without knowing how much stress and pressure we’re going to be under literally in three months.”
Schmetzer has already lined up the best drills from last season and is tweaking his organizational skills to be a better coach of a defending-champion club. But he also still enjoys hearing, reading and seeing testimonials about the 2019 win.
The Sounders made an MLS-record 11th straight postseason appearance, winning the Cup before a CenturyLink Field-record 69,274 partisan crowd.
“I’m a hate-to-lose type of guy,” Schmetzer said. “It certainly does feel good when I can sit up here and there’s two trophies over there. I’m pretty proud of that.”
SOUNDERS DECLINE OPTIONS ON RODRIGUEZ, TORRES: The Sounders have declined contract options on multiple players, including MLS Cup MVP Victor Rodriguez and top defender Roman Torres, the team announced.
Defenders Jonathan Campbell and Saad Abdul-Salaam and midfielder Alex Roldan also had their options declined by the Sounders. Center back Kim Kee-hee, winger Harry Shipp and left back Brad Smith’s contracts have ended, but negotiations are ongoing with those players, according to a release from the Sounders.
The Sounders picked up 2020 contract options on midfielders Handwalla Bwana, Jordy Delem and Gustav Svensson and forward Justin Dhillon, bringing the club’s roster to 18 players.
“We’re excited to bring back so many players from our championship squad in an effort to make another run in 2020,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said in a release. “Making these decisions at the conclusion of every year is always difficult, but we’re excited about moving forward with the group we have and seeing what we can accomplish next season.”
MLS clubs have until Thursday to re-sign players eligible for the re-entry draft, including those players whose contracts were not exercised, according to league rules.
Rodriguez scored a goal in the 76th minute of the Sounders’ 3-1 win at CenturyLink Field for the MLS Cup title. The Spanish midfielder signed with the Sounders in 2017 but was often injured, making his contract option refusal unsurprising. Rodriguez also told media after MLS Cup he wanted to return to his native country to continue his career by his young family’s side. The 30-year-old had a base salary of $1.1 million this season, according to the MLS Players Association.
Torres’ five-year tenure with Seattle was tainted by past injuries and a 10-game league suspension this past season. The 33-year-old from Panama scored the winning goal against Minnesota United FC on “Decision Day” to secure home-field advantage through the Western Conference semifinals and title match. He also nailed the Sounders’ 2016 title-clinching penalty kick against Toronto.
Torres, who earned a base salary of $750,000 this season, has been rumored to return to his Colombian club, Millonarios FC.
The 14 players that had already been under contract for the Sounders are goalkeepers Stefan Frei and Trey Muse; defenders Xavier Arreaga, Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam and Nouhou; midfielders Emanuel Cecchini, Danny Leyva, Nicolás Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan; forwards Will Bruin, Jordan Morris, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Raúl Ruidíaz.