The drumbeat leading to the Sounders-Timbers match this weekend became a little more intense Thursday when Portland coach John Spencer seemed to go out of his way to call Qwest Field only the second-best environment in Major League Soccer.
“We know it’s a big game – the players know that,” Spencer said in a conference call with reporters who cover the Sounders. “The history behind the game excites the players, it excites the staff, and I’m pretty sure it’s probably going to be the best – the second best – atmosphere in the country, second to Jeld-Wen Field, when the game kicks off.”
Jeld-Wen Field is the Timbers’ home, where the club is 4-0 while drawing sellout crowds of 18,627 for each game.
That’s roughly half the attendance expected Saturday night for the first Sounders-Timbers MLS meeting at Qwest, where the Sounders average a league-leading 36,289 a game.
Never miss a local story.
Spencer’s snub echoed his comments after the Timbers’ home opener last month when he said, “I don’t think you see an atmosphere like that in American soccer history – ever … This doesn’t feel like the U.S. – no disrespect to anybody – this feels like a Champions League game.”
Spencer’s aside about disrespect is unlikely to make much difference to a Sounders fan base as eager to maintain bragging rights as MLS’ most numerous supporters as they are to see their team secure bragging rights on the pitch.
“The three points against Portland are worth just the same as three points against Toronto,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “I mean, it’s all the same. But I think when you get outside that realm – for their fans, for our fans – it means a lot more. It’s a lot of bragging rights. It’s the ability to walk down the street with a little bit of swagger, a little bit of a bounce in your step afterwards. It allows you to go afterwards and hoist a refreshment and say, ‘Hey, that was a lot of fun today.’ ”
Meanwhile, Spencer did admit to a debt of gratitude to the Sounders for establishing that expansion teams don’t necessarily need to pay years of dues before succeeding in MLS. However, he once again seemed to throw in a little dig at the end.
“First and foremost, Seattle is our fiercest rivals. We know that,” Spencer said. “But we still can’t hide away from the fact that they’ve done a tremendous job there from top to bottom, and you’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. So for us, what I think we did take from them was that as an expansion team you can have success in the first year. That was probably the one and only thing that we did take from them.”
So far, the Timbers are succeeding. At 4-3-1 they match the Sounders (3-3-4) with 13 points in the standings, but with two games in hand.
NEW MLS STAT
MLS on Thursday introduced its “Castrol Index,” which it says “tracks every move on the field and assesses whether it has a positive or negative impact on a team’s ability to score or concede a goal.”
The first index, taken from games played in April, ranks Thierry Henry as the most potent player in the league, followed by Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani. Filling out the league’s top five are David Ferreira of Dallas, Omar Gonzalez of Los Angeles and Atiba Harris of Vancouver.
The five top-ranked Sounders are Zakuani, O’Brian White, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso.
Two-time Sounders goals leader forward Fredy Montero was ranked ninth on the team and 92nd in the league, while goalkeeper Kasey Keller was ranked 13th on the club and 166th in MLS.
Schmid greeted the new rankings with a laugh and considerable skepticism that a soccer player’s value can be quantified in this way.
“We were wondering who the person was that was sitting there looking at the movement and saying this is a positive movement and this is a negative movement – because everything is a reflection of how good that person is,” Schmid said. “If it’s some guy who has played high school soccer and knows very little about the game, he’s: ‘Oh, Thierry Henry, that must be a positive movement. This guy, oh, that must be a negative movement.’ It’s a very subjective thing.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt
More on the Spencer interview and a link to complete Castrol Index rankings are available at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer.
Portland at Seattle, 8 p.m., ESPN2, 97.3-FM