Seattle Sounders FC is approaching its match today against Chelsea as a first chance to test itself against one of the world’s great clubs.
“It’s fantastic,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s fantastic for Seattle fans to be able to get out there and watch some of those players and the opportunity to see a team like that get out there and play. … We get to go up there and challenge, but we’ve got some pretty good guys to go against. For our team, I think it’s just a great opportunity.”
Chelsea, meanwhile, is approaching the game much like the Seattle Seahawks will likely approach their exhibition opener next month in San Diego. For the Blues – who met several Seahawks on Friday while practicing at the NFL team’s training facility in Renton – this is the first game of a month-long preseason leading to the serious business of the English Premier League.
So, while Chelsea players and coaches said they want to win today, their higher priorities might be working out the kinks, brushing off the cobwebs and staying healthy.
“It’s a preseason game, so (the goal is) to get started,” Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou said Friday. “We’ve been away for four weeks, so to come back and play this game, it’s good to be fit and to prepare for the season. … It’s going to be a difficult game. We’re not really 100 percent, but we have to try our best to win.”
Also like the Seahawks, Chelsea players will be trying to impress a new coach: Carlo Ancelotti, who moves to London after winning two Champions League titles and one Serie A title in eight seasons at Milan.
“I am happy to be at Chelsea because Chelsea is a great team,” Ancelotti said. “I like the work of the players: They’ve started the season very well, and they work with a very good mental attitude. (Today brings) the first game of the season. We want to start well, so it is an important game. We want to win and play well.”
So do the Sounders, although they have their own competing interests. Because they are in the middle of their MLS season, the Sounders should enjoy an advantage in fitness and familiarity. However, Schmid also has to consider his team’s U.S. Open Cup match against Houston, which is just three days away.
Schmid indicated he will start most of his regulars. But he also plans to use his entire roster – partly to keep his starters fresh, partly to let everyone share the pitch with the London-based superclub that has won three English championships, five FA Cups, four League Cups and two UEFA Cup Winners’ Cups.
“We want to represent ourselves well,” Schmid said. “… It’s a great opportunity, but we also have a very important game on Tuesday that we don’t want to lose sight of.”
Chelsea is a familiar opponent for two Sounders: midfielder Freddie Ljungberg and goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who each have extensive experience in the English Premier League.
Because of that, both have said that this game is especially important for their teammates. For those who may go on to bigger leagues, this is a chance to test themselves. For the rest, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“When you have a big team like Chelsea coming, I think everybody should have the (chance),” Ljungberg said. “Let’s say if they never get to play in Europe, at least they should be able to tell their grandchildren that they played against a big team from Europe.”
Chelsea players seem less likely to ever tell their grandchildren about this afternoon in Seattle. But they say they still want to win, and they don’t expect it to be easy.
“In this sport, there is no small team and you have to take every team seriously,” Kalou said. “If we lost, I don’t think you have to be ashamed of that because this is a preseason game and the Seattle team is also a good team and they’re also training every day to win the MLS. It will be a good game to watch and a good game to play.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
Chelsea at Seattle Sounders FC, noon, Qwest Field. TV: ESPN2, Radio: 97.3-FM SOUNDERS GAMEDAY
Chelsea FC at Seattle Sounders FC
Kickoff: Noon, Qwest Field.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 97.3-FM, 1210-AM (Spanish).
Notes: Chelsea is the reigning FA Cup champion. Last season, the Blues finished third in the English Premier League. … Today begins a four-game U.S. tour for Chelsea. Sounders FC is the Blues’ only MLS opponent on the tour. After this, they will meet Mexico’s Club America and Italy’s Inter and AC Milan. Chelsea’s EPL season begins Aug. 15 at home against Hull City. … The clubs have agreed to unlimited substitutions. Chelsea officials indicated the Blues will use most of their roster except for their African players, who have just returned from national team duty. … England international Joe Cole (knee) did not travel. Captain John Terry is here, amid transfer rumors that dominated Chelsea’s prematch press conference. … This is Chelsea’s fourth game in Seattle. The Blues beat a local amateur side, 5-0, in 1967 at Memorial Stadium; lost to the NASL Sounders, 2-0, in 1977 at the Kingdome; and defeated Celtic, 4-2, in 2004 at Qwest Field. … A natural-grass pitch has been installed for this game, and both upper decks will be opened, creating a capacity of 67,000. As of Friday, fewer than 1,000 tickets remained. … Gates open at 10 a.m., and soccer celebration activities will begin then at the north plaza.
Next: Houston vs. Sounders, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Starfire Sports Stadium, Tukwila; U.S. Open Cup semifinal.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune