What is considered by some to be the top rivalry in United States soccer is about to take on the heightened pressure of a Major League Soccer playoff series.
Trying to manage that combination of high emotions and high stakes will be Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid and Portland Timbers counterpart Caleb Porter, whose clubs begin a two-game, aggregate-score Western Conference semifinal series at 7 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field. The series will resolve at 8 p.m. Thursday at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland.
After Seattle advanced past the Colorado Rapids with a 2-0 knockout-round win on Wednesday, several Sounders said they see the pairing as fun.
However, Porter wants to balance the special nature of this series against any distraction from his main objective.
“I really try to stay from game to game absorbed on what I need to do to prepare my team to win
the game,” he said Thursday in a conference call. “Those other things are nice. I do think it’s great for the league to have a Sounders-Timbers matchup. I do think it’s going to be hopefully an epic series, one that people will talk about. The players, myself; we won’t be thinking too much about all those little things, but I do think it’s great for the league.”
Schmid portrayed any added pressure as a small price to pay for the attention the game could generate for MLS.
“Obviously people are going to tune in and see a huge crowd on Saturday, and they’re going to see a great event,” he said. “It’s what the playoffs should be; and so having it be a rival is great. I think it’s great for the league, and I think it’s great for soccer in this country. I’ve been in soccer for a long time in this country, and so any time good things happen like that, I look at it as a positive.”
It isn’t yet clear how big a crowd will turn up for the opener.
When the Sounders and Timbers met on Aug. 25, a Northwest-record soccer crowd of 67,385 attended. However, Seattle drew a crowd of 32,204 – about 12,000 less than their regular-season average – for their midweek playoff opener against the Rapids.
“The reality is, selling these games with two days’ notice or three days’ notice is tough,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “All things being equal, 32,000, I actually thought that was pretty darn good. I think we anticipate a bigger number on Saturday.”
The crowd should grow because of the weekend date and because the opponent is Portland. The front office doesn’t know yet if there will be enough demand to merit opening additional sections in the upper deck. Hanauer indicated that decision likely won’t be made until there is an indication that demand will exceed the normal supply.
Hanauer warned supporters that for the first time in club history the Sounders will play on a pitch that will include NFL gridiron lines and numbers.
“They should be prepared for a football field pretending to be a soccer field,” he said. “It’s the unfortunate reality of a two-professional-team stadium, with the timing.”
Portland, as the higher-seeded team, earned the advantage of playing the decisive second game at home. That forced the Sounders to play host to the opener 18 hours before the Seattle Seahawks play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Hanauer said current technology doesn’t allow for the painting of football markings in the time available – especially if the weather is bad.
“The only way around it is creating massive risk for a nationally televised NFL game,” he said. “We are going to continue to push to try to figure out ultimately over time whether there are technologies, work-force opportunities, creative solutions to never have this happen.”
Schmid said the availability of defender DeAndre Yedlin (ankle) and forward Obafemi Martins (groin) had not been determined Thursday. The Sounders will play the San Jose Earthquakes on Aug. 2, 2014, in what will be the first event at Levi Stadium, the new home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 email@example.com/soccer