Seattle Sounders FC flies out this morning for its final road match of the regular season, on Saturday at Kansas City.
And when the wheels touch down at the end of the return flight Sunday, the Sounders will have traveled 46,898 miles this season – the most in Major League Soccer.
“It just comes with the territory,” veteran defender James Riley said Thursday. “… You’re definitely in an advantage if you’re in the middle (of the country): Columbus, Colorado, Kansas City, Chicago. It’s just one of those things.”
Last season, New England traveled more than any other MLS team: 44,940 miles. Kansas City traveled the shortest distance: 26,790 miles. The league average was 31,764.
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The Sounders hit the frequent-flier jackpot as a simple matter of geography. Seattle is tucked away in the northwest corner of the country, with the nearest MLS rival 709 air miles away in San Jose, Calif.
Over the years, the Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball, the Seahawks of the NFL, and the former SuperSonics of the NBA have faced similar challenges.
“As with anything, you have to accept what your lot is,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’re in Seattle, so we have to travel, and you just focus on ‘OK, let’s get the job done.’ You can still get the job done. It might make it a little more difficult. It might mean you have to be a little more conscientious about when you get your training in, make sure your guys are eating well, make sure you get the proper amount of rest coming off your travel days, and things like that. It’s something that’s manageable.”
So far, the Sounders have managed. Seattle is 4-5-5 away from home, the fourth-best road record in the league. Over their past five road games, the Sounders are 3-1-1.
“Generally, good teams on the road play not much different than at home,” Schmid said. “They play their style of soccer without a great disparity of playing a particular style at home or a particular style away. They play their game.”
In order to do that, Schmid said, a variety of potential disadvantages must be put aside.
“It’s sleeping in your own bed at home … that comfortability,” he said. “(The home team has) the crowd behind them, they’re familiar with where they’re going. Sometimes when you’re on the road, there’s a little bit of boredom waiting around for the game each day, while if you’re at home, you’re either with your family or you’re doing something active. That maybe changes your attitude, as well. I don’t think the nightlife on the road is a factor. These guys are good athletes, and they know what they need to do. It’s not like there’s this clamoring for soccer players in the United States.”
Travel is different in the English Premier League and other top leagues of Europe.
England is a country of 50,346 square miles – smaller than Louisiana. So, the only time English Premier League teams face anything like the cross-country flights of MLS is when they play internationally. And when they do, it’s in private jets, not on the commercial flights typical of MLS.
“Back home in Europe, if we play in the Champions League, it can be in Moscow, it can be in Greece, which is quite long flights,” said former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg. “But you always go private, so it’s a bit more comfortable, and you don’t wait around in airports and stuff. I think for me, that’s the biggest change.
“I don’t mind the long flights, it’s everything around it. But I’m getting used to it.”
If the Sounders win in Kansas City, they will assure themselves of a place in the MLS playoffs and therefore at least one more road trip this season. The first-round of the playoffs is determined by the aggregate scores of two games – home and road – with the higher-seeded team usually choosing to play the second game on its home pitch.
The league’s second round is determined by a single game at the stadium of the higher-seeded team.
The MLS Cup will be played Nov. 22 at Qwest Field, regardless of the teams involved.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808