The Leagues Cup is a chance for clubs in Liga MX and Major League Soccer to play against one another. Not as prestigious as the Concacaf Champions League yet not quite a friendly, the tournament serves as a bridge for teams in Mexico to teams in the United States and Canada.
While not the same team that pushed Bayern Munich to its brink in the Club World Cup at the end of 2020, Tigres nonetheless will be facing off against the Seattle Sounders in the Pacific Northwest. I spoke with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart about the club he’s covered for over a decade to give Liga MX fans a bit of insight about Seattle.
For the uninitiated, the Sounders have been in MLS since 2009 and are a continuation (at least in name) of the club that competed under the same name since 1974. For the past five years however, Seattle has been a juggernaut in MLS, going to the finals in four of those five years and winning the league twice.
Their secret to success has been “one part President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey and one part head coach Brian Schmetzer,” Clark told me via email. “Schmetzer’s reputation has grown from an ‘aw shucks’ friend of the fans to the best American men’s coach — ever. Already on par with former Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, only the national team success of Arena and Bradley put them ahead of Schmetzer. He empowers his assistants and players to channel what they’re good at and accepts the blame himself when others fail.”
And his praise for Lagerwey is equally as heady. “Lagerwey has mastered the cap system of MLS. He took over a team that was already good and made them great, and then kept making them greater. Tests like Leagues Cup and CCL are where the two will truly make their names. They’ve basically solved the domestic circuit.”
While Liga MX fans might not know of Lagerwey or Schmetzer, they should be familiar with some other faces in the organization. Assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda had a great career in Liga MX, mostly with Chivas but also with Pumas, San Luis, Cruz Azul, Puebla, and Querétaro before going to Seattle in 2014 and playing two seasons prior to retiring. Then of course there’s Raúl Ruidíaz, the Peruvian striker who might be best remembered for saving Monarcas Morelia from relegation in 2017 with the goal at the 1:17 mark.
Also notable are Uruguayan midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro who played at Ajax, Corinthians, and Boca Juniors before coming to Seattle in 2016. “There are six All Stars on the squad, all deserved,” Clark says. “(Ruidíaz) is currently tied for the Golden Boot lead in MLS. He’s flourishing this year like no other, just one goal away from tying his Sounders’ single season high. But this cast is more than just the high-priced talents who’ve played in Copa Americas. There’s the Roldan brothers who currently lock down the right side. The backline has three center backs who at their best are all league, and two of them are in that All Star Game. Nouhou (Tolo, Seattle’s starting left back) was the best defender in MLS when he went out injured. Yeimar Gomez Andrade is nearly as good, and healthy. Brazilian defensive mid João Paulo is an all-motor, strong passing player who seems to occupy three passing lanes at once and always beats a line in transition.”
Seattle’s strength lies with their defense. “Much of this year’s success starts with three center backs and two wingbacks,” Clark says. They’ve also been forced to be flexible. “They’ve shifted between 3-4-2-1 and 3-4-1-2 based on health and player availability. The desire is to press from front to back and strike in transition. When building up they must use quick passes as there isn’t much foot speed on the roster. They’re willing to give space for crosses, as the CBs win the first balls and the DMs pick up the second. Schmetzer’s team can plod out a 1-nil or put up a thriller, always rooted in the cliches of teamwork and belief. For Seattle, it’s pretty clear those cliches are also reality.“
“A month ago,” Clark continued, “when there were only a handful of injuries Seattle looked ready to have the best regular season in MLS history. Losing over a dozen players for a few matches ended that hope, but Sounders remain in contention for the Shield and are favorites for another appearance in MLS Cup.”
Still it should be a fun time for all involved - players and fans alike. “A midweek match during a pandemic is just going to be different,” Clark says. “This wasn’t part of the season ticket package, which will limit attendance, as will the odd nature of the not-quite-a-friendly. The two teams have met a couple of times. That will help the atmosphere. There will also be a fun vibe of some split families where members are rooting against each other.”
“Normally I’d talk about how loud it would be and various foods,” Clark concluded. ”With the pandemic, some of the food counters are closed and the crowd will be smaller. Enjoy the day and have fun anyway.”
Check out all of Sounder At Heart’s Leagues Cup, Seattle Sounders, and OL Reign coverage.