When Seattle Sounders’ Australian assistant coach John Hutchinson returned home nearly a week ago he was looking to spend Christmas with family and friends reflecting on the powerhouse club’s second successive MLS Cup Final appearance.
Those holiday hopes were dashed when the Central Coast Mariners legend tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Sydney, a city already experiencing a cluster of cases in the newly locked-down Northern Beaches.
Isolated from his family, who are in separate quarters in the same Sydney hotel, Hutchinson won’t be freed from his exile until December 29, and has more time than he imagined to ruminate over his second spell with the team who has featured in four of the past five MLS championship matches, winning two of them.
Losing 3-0 last weekend to a dominant Columbus Crew - in a clash which saw Socceroos defender Brad Smith feature off the bench for Seattle - was a blow for first-team assistant Hutchinson.
And testing positive for coronavirus - after just “a tickle in the throat” - was an unforeseen consequence of a marathon journey home from Seattle via Los Angeles and Auckland.
“I must have picked it up somewhere on the trip,” said Hutchinson.
“I tested negative before leaving Seattle but positive during my second day in quarantine and I’m now separated from the family (wife Kate, daughter Mahli, 7, and son Kai, 11)
“We’ll miss Christmas together this year but we’ve been looked after really well, and will hopefully be together for the New Year.
“The kids have had a tough year stuck in an apartment in Seattle (with coronavirus cases surging to new heights in America).
“That’s been 2020, it’s just been one of those things and (this latest episode) just about sums the year up.
“Covid has affected people in many different ways and so many people are far worse off than us.”
Hutchinson is in his second coming at Seattle, having spent two years in charge of the Rave Green’s second team before returning to the A-League as an assistant to Mark Rudan at newcomers Western United.
Within 13 months he had received an offer to return to the Sounders in a new role working with emerging players which sees him closely aligned to head coach Brian Schmetzer.
“Whilst I really enjoyed my time at Western United, where I had a really good working relationship with Mark Rudan, it was in many ways a no-brainer when the offer came (to return to the MLS),” explained Hutchinson.
“There’s a winning culture at the club which was built up under Sigi (Schmid) and has continued to grow with Brian in charge.
“It’s a strong club and they basically created a role for me to take care of the younger guys.
“We’re trying to build the development program up and there are good people involved.
“I enjoy the role but one day, looking down the track, I want to be a head coach in my own right.”
Compatriot Smith is also in his second spell at the club after a previous 35-game loan stint while on Bournemouth’s books.
The left-back returned on a permanent deal in September, after completing a loan at Cardiff City.
Eight of the 26-year-old’s nine appearances came off the bench, with Hutchinson predicting he’ll be a major force next season.
“He’ll do well once he properly settles back in,” he said. “When he came in he hadn’t trained for a while and also had quarantine as well.
“I took some personal sessions with Brad and with a full pre-season behind him, he’ll be better for it (in 2021).
“It’s been a difficult year for everybody with the coronavirus and all the uncertainty and unknowns surrounding that.”