Tournaments and friendlies intertwine throughout the Major League Soccer season, and Seattle Sounders FC is about to get a taste of all kinds of competitions.
A three-game stretch begins Wednesday with a U.S. Open Cup third-round match in Portland against the USL Timbers, continues July 11 with an important MLS match against current league-leader Houston and climaxes July 18 with Chelsea FC visiting Qwest Field for an international friendly.
“Actually it’s kind of cool, to be honest,” Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “I mean let’s not kid ourselves, this Open Cup game on Wednesday is a big deal. But after that, you’re looking at the Chelsea game, which is fun. There’s no pressure there, we’re supposed to (lose), and it doesn’t mean anything. So for us, it’s an opportunity to get some guys a chance to play against some world-class opposition and test themselves.
“So that’s kind of a fun week, just to kind of switch off mentally and just be ready physically.”
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Even after Chelsea, the unconventional stretch of the Sounders’ schedule continues. They return to MLS play July 25 against Chicago, then break for the All-Star Game on July 29, resume league play Aug. 1 at San Jose, then return to Seattle for another international friendly Aug. 5 against FC Barcelona.
It all begins Wednesday against a Northwest rival, and Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said he is serious about winning to advance in the U.S. Open Cup.
“It’s an opportunity to win a trophy, to win a title,” Schmid said Monday. “For the players, there’s prize money at the end of the line, so that’s something that’s got to motivate them. … We want to establish that tradition within our club that we want to get to championship games.”
Schmid was characteristically vague when talking about the lineup he would start at PGE Park – he wouldn’t even commit to going with Keller, who is from Lacey, or newly signed reserve keeper Terry Boss, an Oregon native.
However, history indicates that he knows how to juggle cup play with league play. Under Schmid, the Los Angeles Galaxy won the U.S. Open Cup in 2001, lost the final in 2002 and reached the semifinals in 2000 and 2003. Schmid’s all-time record in Open Cup play is 14-7-1.
In the Sounders’ first two Open Cup games this year – victories over Real Salt Lake and Colorado – Schmid used a mix of regulars and reserves. However, he might feel free to send his usual starters into action Wednesday because the team has the next 10 days off.
“It helps a little bit, for sure, because of the fact that we don’t have a game on the weekend,” Schmid said. “It’s a lot easier to talk to somebody and say ‘I need you to play here, because it’s not like I’m going to need you three days later to play 90 (minutes).’ So it makes it easier mentally sometimes to prepare and say, ‘I’m a little tired, but I think I can push through this one.’ ”
The Sounders will be without midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who suffered an abductor strain during Seattle’s 3-0 win over Colorado on Sunday. And Steve Zakuani started running on his injured ankle Monday, but he seems doubtful for Wednesday’s match.
Portland coach Gavin Wilkinson said he expects the Sounders to do their best to win. And he did so in a way that shifts the pressure to the visitors – much as Keller did when discussing the Chelsea game.
“Seattle cannot lose to Portland,” Wilkinson said. “Seattle is an MLS team. For us, it’s a matter of going in, enjoying the experience and playing the game. For Seattle, they’re taking a huge step in going to MLS, and this is a game they must win. The urgency of the game, while I think they’re looking forward to it, they also understand the seriousness of the event.”
The Timbers, who have a 7-1-5 record, have the fewest losses in the USL first division but are in third place, two points behind Puerto Rico and one behind Charleston.
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SOUNDERS’ next SEVEN
Seattle Sounders FC’s next seven games will be a mix of tournament matches, friendlies and regular-season MLS games:
Wed.at PortlandU.S. Open Cup Old rivals meet again
July 11HoustonMLSLeague leader visits
July 18ChelseaFriendlyPremier League power
July 25ChicagoMLSCuautemoc Blanco visits Seattle
July 29Everton*All-Star GameSounders dominate fan voting
Aug. 1at San JoseMLSHeritage Cup at stake
Aug. 5BarcelonaFriendlyUEFA Champions League champs
*A team of MLS all-stars will play Everton of the English Premier League at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, home of Real Salt Lake.