Sounders FC

Just another face in the Qwest Field grandstand

Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad will make his Qwest Field debut Friday; although in a way, he’s been there all season.

Onstad is one of the soccer players depicted on the huge tarps used to cover the seats of the stadium’s upper deck. Onstad’s image – showing him diving for a ball – stretches over parts of 10 sections on the stadium’s west side.

The real Onstad will get his first in-person look Saturday, when his MLS-leading Houston Dynamo faces Seattle Sounders FC.

“It’ll be interesting when I get there,” Onstad said this week. “My parents are coming down from Vancouver (B.C.) – I was born and raised in Vancouver. They’ll see it. I told them they’re going to get to see a way-bigger-than-life picture of their son. They should be impressed.”

For now, Onstad has seen the tarp only in a picture provided by Houston teammate Brian Ching, who was at Qwest Field last weekend with the USA national team.

As for how his image was selected, Onstad has only a hunch.

“I’m sure they just looked for some handsome young man they could put up there,” he said. “The best-looking guy in the league.”

Well, actually, no.

According to John Weaver, the graphics design manager for the Sounders and Seahawks, the Sounders decided early on that the best way to seem to shrink the 67,000-seat stadium to a more-appropriate MLS size of about 30,000 was to cover the upper decks. So the team started studying how other teams handle the challenge.

They found a few professional basketball teams that do something similar. But the more useful examples were found in European soccer.

In studying the technical issues, they decided the best approach was covering each individual section with tarps. When secured into place, they appear almost as a single artists’ canvas. And that brought the question of what to display.

“That was a true challenge,” Weaver said. “… We wanted it to be soccer-oriented, but also to have some action into it – bring that excitement right into the stadium. … We looked at a whole bunch of different styles and designs and kept coming back to the ones with the live action.”

The challenge of selecting those shots was compounded because all of this was being done before the club had decided on a name, a crest or colors.

“Since we were basically starting from scratch, the only images that we had available to us were the ones MLS was providing for us,” Weaver said. “… Those are the images that we had the rights to, and it made the most sense to go with that. Obviously, you run the risk of using other players in the league, and that’s why we removed all the logos, all the numbers, and made them as generic as possible. What we’re going for is a soccer feel and action shots of soccer, and not necessarily Pat Onstad or whatever.”

The tarps are made of nylon. When removed for events that call for upper-deck seating, they are folded down into a roll much like the infield tarp at a baseball park. The rolls are then stored atop the concession stands of the upper deck concourse.

It takes two 10-worker teams roughly two shifts – 16 hours – to put up or take down the tarps. However, Weaver says they’re getting quicker with practice.

And they’re about to get a lot more practice, because the entire stadium will be used when Chelsea visits July 18 and when Barcelona visits Aug. 5. Then the Sounders and Seahawks will share the stadium from August until the MLS regular season ends in late October and through MLS Cup on Nov. 22.

Schmid to miss game

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid will miss Saturday’s game while attending the wedding of his son Kurt in northern California.

Assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, longtime coach of the USL-1 Sounders, will manage the team.

After the wedding, Schmid will fly to Washington, D.C., where President Obama will honor the Columbus Crew for the MLS championship won last season under Schmid. Brad Evans, a former Crew player now with the Sounders and the U.S. national team, also is expected to attend.

Added time

Midfielder Freddie Ljungberg (hamstring) is expected to play Saturday. Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (groin) practiced Thursday, but his game status hasn’t been determined. … Grandstand tickets for Seattle’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal July 21 vs. Houston at Starfire Sport Stadium in Tukwila sold out within hours of going on sale Thursday. A limited number of tickets for uncovered areas remain.

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808