Sounders FC

Starting with Chelsea, Sounders tackle tough schedule

REDMOND – Whatever other challenges Seattle Sounders FC might face these days, boredom won’t be one of them.

Looking directly ahead, the Sounders will play Chelsea in an international friendly Saturday at Qwest Field, meet Houston in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal Tuesday at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila, return to MLS play against Chicago on July 25 at Qwest, send at least two players to the July 29 All-Star Game, host Barcelona in an Aug. 5 friendly, and then begin the regular season’s long stretch run.

If all that wasn’t enough, the Sounders even tried out a new practice field Wednesday, training for the first time at the Microsoft campus in Redmond before a crowd of several hundred interested fans and curious bystanders.

The curious had a comrade in Sounders midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, who admitted he never experienced anything like this during his decade in the English Premier League.

“For me it’s a bit weird, but it’s nice,” Ljungberg said. “They do a lot for us, and if we can give something back to the company and the community, to be honest I think it’s just great. So much people show up just for the practice. I think it’s just amazing.”

Sounders FC executives said that giving something back is exactly the point. Microsoft is the club’s major sponsor through its Xbox 360 jersey sponsorship. So, this was one way of saying thanks for that estimated $20 million.

And on the pitch, coach Sigi Schmid thought there was benefit in the break from the team’s usual closed practices at Starfire Sports Complex or Qwest Field.

“It’s always nice to have people watching” he said. “It brings out a little more effort from everybody; you know, everybody wants to put on a little bit of a show. There were some good goals. I’m glad we tried to construct a practice that the fans would find entertaining as well – bring the goals in tight and you can see some things, see the skills of players. So, it was great.”

While the Sounders were working, London-based Chelsea FC was arriving in the Northwest for the first stop on a four-city U.S. preseason tour.

Their schedule today calls for a Chelsea FC Fan Fest from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Qwest Field and a 5 p.m. practice on the new grass field that was installed this week.

Chelsea and the Sounders will kick off at noon Saturday. Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain.

Added time

D.C. United has won the right to host the U.S. Open championship match if it gets by USL-1 Rochester in its semifinal match Tuesday. That means if United and Seattle both advance, the Sounders would visit RFK Stadium on Sept. 2. If Seattle advances but Rochester defeats D.C., the final would be played Sept. 1 at Qwest. … The Sounders have released forward Jarrod Smith, who was selected from Toronto in the expansion draft but has been on the disabled list since preseason. Last week, Smith underwent surgery to repair a torn right hamstring tendon. He will continue his rehabilitation with the club, and the Sounders retain his MLS rights. … Ljungberg twisted his left ankle in training Thursday. He said afterward that it hurts to walk, but that he expects to tape it up and be able to play in the Chelsea game. Defender Patrick Ianni was held out of work Thursday due to toe pain but also is expected to play Saturday. … Defender Tyrone Marshall is back with the Sounders after his duty with the Jamaican national team.

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808