For just the fifth time in exactly eight months, the Seattle Sounders played a competitive soccer match against another team. In February and early March, Seattle played C.D. Olimpia in two CONCACAF Champions League matches then opened the 2020 MLS regular season with a win over Chicago and a draw against Columbus.
The coronavirus pressed paused on the entire sports world, including MLS. And for more than four months, the Sounders waited to return. And on Friday, the Rave Green finally did, at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida for the MLS is Back Tournament.
After being drawn into Group B along with the San Jose Earthquakes, Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas in June, Seattle flew to Florida on July 3, entering the Orlando bubble at a Disney World hotel with zero positive COVID-19 cases. One week later, both Dallas and Nashville have been withdrawn from the tournament due to too many positive coronavirus tests and the Chicago Fire moved from Group A to Group B.
On Friday, the Sounders played their first match in the group stage, a 0-0 draw against the Earthquakes. Their group schedule continues next Tuesday at 6:00 a.m. PT against Chicago and Sunday, July 19 at 7:30 p.m. against Vancouver. Two of those four teams will then advance to a 16-team knockout round.
Friday's opener against San Jose appeared exactly what many expected, based on early MLS is Back Tournament action. Playing their first match in more than four months, under rainy skies, in the muggy, humid heat of Orlando, Seattle connected only 78 percent of their passes, held only 37.6 percent possession and couldn't find the back of the net. Defensively, however, the team shined, keeping the Earthquakes from scoring on 16 shots, eight of which came on target.
Stefan Frei recorded eight saves, including a diving grab on a deflected shot in the 70th minute, earning Play of the Match and Save of the Match honors. Despite San Jose seeing extended periods of possession in Seattle's side of the field all match, including earning nine corner kicks to the Sounders' one, Seattle's back six never allowed a truly dangerous moment.
Meanwhile, the Sounders attack racked up 12 shots, six on-target, but also never saw that final ball needed to score a winner. One statistic that may make Head Coach Brian Schmetzer happy, though, is out-dueling San Jose, 47-37.
At the end of the day, the conditions and time-off tells the story. As the Sounders progress in the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament, acclimating to the humidity, avoiding late-game cramping and getting back up to full-game-speed will take time. The good news for Schmetzer is that in each match, clubs can make a total of five substitutions at three different times, allowing for more rest and flexibility with players.
In three and a half days, the Rave Green will be back in action facing a Chicago team playing their first match since March 7 in New England. Whether Seattle has the upper hand, having already played a match in the Orlando conditions, is still left to be seen. However, this won't be the first time the clubs have faced off this year. Back on March 1, the Sounders raised their 2019 MLS Cup Champions banner at CenturyLink Field in Seattle and defeated the Fire 2-1 to open the 2020 MLS regular season. Jordan Morris won that match with a 93rd minute game-winning goal.
You can listen to Tuesday morning's broadcast of Seattle vs. Chicago, with the Premera Pre-Match Show beginning at 5:30 a.m. PT, on 950 KJR via 950am, the iHeart Radio App, or online at SportsRadioKJR.com/Listen.
As for the 0-0 MLS is Back Tournament opener against San Jose, check out highlights below, as well as KJR's Postgame Show plus Schmetzer's post-match press conference.