Seattle Sounders FC will compete today with the Chicago Fire for the second time, and with the Seattle Mariners for the first.
The Sounders, Mariners and City of Seattle have an agreement that usually bars games across the street from each other at the same time. Today brings the first exception. The soccer team will kick off at noon at Qwest Field, just over an hour before the baseball team’s first pitch at Safeco Field.
“It’s good for them and it’s good for us if we can avoid it,” said Gary Wright, Sounders vice president of business operations. “But this one couldn’t be avoided because it’s a national TV game. Frankly, we would have preferred to play at nighttime, but we didn’t control the start.”
The agreement acknowledges that such conflicts can be inevitable, so it allows for two weekend exceptions and two weekday exceptions. Otherwise, when soccer and baseball games are expected to draw a combined attendance of 70,000 on weekends or 58,000 on weekdays, there must be a three-hour gap between the projected end of one game and the start of the other.
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Today’s exception comes because ESPN selected the Sounders-Fire game for national telecast. And there’s little arguing with the choice, because this match projects to be among the best of this MLS season.
Seattle and Chicago are tied for second place in Major League Soccer with identical 7-3-7 records.
The Sounders have become one of the biggest stories in American soccer because of their early success and run of enthusiastic sellout crowds. Meanwhile, Chicago visits for first time with one of MLS’ true superstars: designated player Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the former Mexican national team member whose All-Star skills, beer-league physique and diva personality thrill fans, infuriate critics, challenge opposing coaches and amuse teammates.
“He’s a great guy in the locker room – jokes around a lot,” said Chicago veteran defender Brandon Prideaux, who played in college for the Washington Huskies. “I’ve been with him for a couple of years. He’s a good guy, and he can do things on the field that not many guys can do.”
Blanco made his impact on the first Sounders-Fire meeting, getting to a loose ball in the penalty area, making a spin move and then sending the ball to Marco Pappa, who scored his team’s lone goal in a 1-1 draw.
“I don’t think we did a good job with Blanco in Chicago, so I think we need to do a much better job of limiting what he can do,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said this week. “He’s going to get the ball, he’s going to see the ball, he does. … It’s just a matter of us making sure we get tighter to him than we did in the last game.”
Before his assist, Blanco had wandered the pitch, pausing regularly to taunt teammates who sometimes disappointed him and the referee.
“He’s his own person, and the team is better when they play around what he’s going to do,” Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “He moves around the field and you never quite know what is going to come off. You have to have a few other individuals at midfield who are willing to do the dirty work for him, but he can be a very effective player if his team is set up the right way.”
The Sounders played shorthanded in the first game, after Fredy Montero was sent off in the 48th minute for striking Chicago defender Gonzalo Segares with an elbow. So Seattle was grateful to come away with a point after Tyrone Marshall got the equalizer in the 74th minute.
“We had a bad game in Chicago and came out with a good result by getting a tie out of that, playing a man down for almost the whole second half,” Schmid said. “… But our team has to commit to defending and doing well on the defensive end of the field.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808