Saturday, the Seattle Sounders will embark into uncharted waters for a Major League Soccer team, becoming the first representative from the league to take part in the Club World Cup. In the same year that the Sounders 13-year streak of making the playoffs ended last season, the team won the Concacaf Nations League to qualify for this tournament and now have to be prepared for the challenge that the Club World Cup will present as they look to continue their run of firsts.
First up will be Al Ahly, the leaders of the Egyptian Premier League and a team that has been undefeated this season. Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer was handed an injury boost with the availability of Joao Paulo, but this match has also added a unique wrinkle to preseason preparation for the team.
"My job has been pretty easy this year, preseason-wise, because the players are really in tune and really listening to all of our instructions because they understand the importance of this opportunity," Schmetzer said speaking to media ahead of the match. "We will have to rely on our grit, our determination, and we will have to play smart, because those teams have had a head start on us."
This is something that was also echoed by Cristian Roldan when he appeared on the In Soccer We Trust podcast. where he talked about how the team has been able to prep for preseason with this tournament in mind, helping them prepare with more focus than the lead-up to a normal MLS season. Though, while playing high level friendlies against Wolfsberg and Hammarby certainly helps, the first competitive match of the season always brings a different energy.
Make sure to check out everything Roldan had to say and listen below and follow In Soccer We Trust: A CBS Sports Soccer Podcast where three times a week your three favorite former USMNT players cover everything you could possibly want to know about the beautiful game in the United States.
Looking to hand Al Ahly their first loss, Schmetzer has picked out their central midfielder Aliou Dieng as someone to watch who would also, "do well in MLS." Schemtzer looked to the energy and stability that the Malian brings to the center of the park to help an attack that gets a lot of plaudits to work around him. But the Sounders will be ready to go.
With Raul Ruidiaz, Albert Rusnak, Jordan Morris, Roldan, and other members of the attack healthy and rested, the Sounders will be able to keep up going forward but the defense will have to be at the top of their game to slow Al Ahly's quick passing attack. The prize they're after is a date with Real Madrid in the semifinals but the team isn't looking past Saturday's match just yet.
"We don't want to spend all this time and travel, and all that, to come to Morocco and not play very well, not be competitive. There is that little added bit of pressure individually and collectively, for sure," Schmetzer said.
"It will be important for us to transition well," Roldan said on the podcast. "This is a team that sends a lot of players forward. And we're also going to have to defend in a low block at times, but we understand where we're at. We're at four weeks into preseason."
No federation other than Europe or South American sides has ever won this tournament, and obviously with Real Madrid on the horizon it's a longshot for Seattle as well. But first up for the Sounders it's Al Ahly. Win that and then they can start to dream.