The Seattle Sounders have begun game-week preparations for a weekend in which there might be no games.
While the Sounders trained Tuesday for their scheduled Major League Soccer opener Sunday against the New England Revolution, captain Brad Evans was in Washington, D.C., with other union representatives for collective bargaining with the league. If no new agreement is reached soon, there could be a lockout or strike before the planned start of the MLS season Friday, when the Chicago Fire visits the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
The players’ top issue is some form of free agency, while the league hasn’t offered what is considered an acceptable version.
Back at the Starfire Sports complex, the Sounders admit that the topic is unavoidable.
“I’m sure it’s on their minds,” coach Sigi Schmid said of the ongoing negotiations. “One thing that I’ve held back on as a coach is I don’t want to go in there and say, ‘All right, here we go, let’s go,’ and then all of a sudden it’s not ‘let’s go’ for a while. I want to wait until that all gets resolved. I think everybody will feel better from both sides.”
Schmid spoke from the management perspective. But several of his players took similar stances Tuesday.
“It’s in the back of everyone’s head, but the only thing that we can control at this point is how we prepare for Sunday,” veteran defender Zach Scott said. “We have no control over what happens in the boardroom. We have great leadership in there, and hopefully something gets done. For both sides, the best possible outcome is the games go on.”
The Sounders will push forward with that assumption, as Schmid set this agenda for the week ahead.
“Dot-all-the-I’s, cross-all-the-T’s kind of thing,” he said. “Just make sure that we’re where we want to be defensively in terms of covering and closing gaps. I think in preseason there’s been a couple of times we’ve taken what I would call soft goals that we didn’t need to take. And making sure that we’re sharp offensively, meeting with the guys so they understand exactly what their role is and what our expectations are of them.”
One thing the Sounders will not do until a new CBA is signed is make any roster moves, because the new agreement is likely to address relevant issues such as the number of players on the first-team roster and the relationship between the MLS teams and their USL affiliates.
“We want to get a clear picture and then we’ll make some decisions,” Schmid said. “We’ll know how everything’s working between the Sounders and S2 and all of those things — call-ups and loans down and how all that gets affected — and then we’ll make some decisions.”
The Sounders are scheduled to return to training Wednesday, which also is the final day scheduled for talks between the union and the league.
“We all are training hoping that everything is going to get figured out,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “Trust me: I know that no professional athlete wants to go through double-days in preseason and then get that dessert — that home opener — taken away from them. So we’re all hoping things are going to get worked out and we can play in front of our fans.”