The Seattle Sounders and Charleston Battery are surprisingly linked, given their geographic distance and the fact that they've played in different leagues over the past five seasons.
However, they will meet up again at 4:15 p.m. Saturday as first-round opponents in the Carolina Challenge Cup, hosted by the Battery.
Below are a Batter executive and Sounders coach and players talking about the tournament:
Battery president ANDREW BELLOn the origins of the tournament: We always hosted MLS teams for exhibition games in preseason. But then in 2004 we decided to ramp it up a little bit and introduce a competitive element to the preseason event that we’d been holding. So for the last 11 years we’ve had three MLS teams join up and have done this round-robin tournament. At the time we started it there really we’re any of the other preseason tournaments that have cropped up over the last few years, so we were really the first and we’ve always prided ourselves on putting a very competitive tournament on.
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On the benefit to Charleston and the Battery: Obviously it’s fantastic for our fans to get to see the players. Over the years it’s a bit of who’s-who who’s come through here. I think we had Freddy Adu the first year when he joined the league. A bunch of national team players. And now with the trajectory of Major League Soccer, we’re getting just some incredible talent on display for our fans. For us as a club it’s great because it’s excellent competition before we start our season. And it’s also good for some of our trial players because we can bring them in and play them in these games and give them a chance to play in front of the MLS coaches.
On the relationship between the clubs: We’ve known (Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer) for a long time, since his involvement with Seattle, I think started in 2002-2003. Obviously we enjoyed a good comptition: good games against them when we were competing against them when they were in USL. So we’ve know them for a long time. Our coach is good friends with Brian Schmetzer, and we’ve been fortunately to be able to send players to Seattle. I think it’s three now: We’ve got Caskey, Neagle and Alonso. And likewise, they’ve helped us with players coming the other way. It’s been a good healthy relationship. And finally we’ve been able to figure it out where they’re able to come and compete in the Carolina Challenge Cup. The last competitive game we played against them was in the semifinals of the 2008 U.S. Open Cup. … Incredible game. We ended up winning on penalties. And that year we had Osvaldo Alonso and went to the final. We lost against D.C. United, which was heart-breaking: 2-1 loss. Then the very next year he was with Seattle, and he got his revenge because Seattle went to D.C. and beat them.
On the closer relationship between MLS and USL: I think it’s a huge step for the sport in this country. It’s something we’ve been advocating for a long time. … We’re excited about it. We’ve always viewed ourselves as a development team, as a team that will help players move to the next level – to Major League Soccer – is something we’ve been doing on our own for a while now. And to have a formalized structure in place – as you know we’re affiliated with Vancouver Whitecaps, we’re going to help them tremendously and bring players through to their first time.
Sounders coach SIGI SCHMIDOn Challenge Cup goals compared to Arizona friendlies: Arizona was to look at players and so forth. Chareston we’re still trying to get minutes for players, make sure that they’re fit and ready. But we’re also trying to make final determinations in terms of the starting lineup and who’s the next set of reserves there. So we’re still making some decisions on guys who make the team and don’t make the team, but we’re also looking more at OK what’s our final starting lineup going to look like. ... There’s a lot of competition. The 18, it’s a competitive situation right now for them. But there’s a lot of good options there and people we can come with. These final sets of games, it’s opportunity for people to show that they should be in the first 11, or at least in the 18, or on the squad.
On winning Diamond Cup last preseason: It doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Preseason’s preseason. … It’s just a matter of continuing to improve as a team, continue to understand each other, to build our cohesion as a unit and play well.
On scheduling friendly with College of Charleston: Just to get minutes for people. We want to make sure guys play, so we’ve got the three games in the tournament, we’ve got the College of Charleston, and we might add a game Saturday morning before our last game as well. We’ve got somewhere between 26-28 field players we’re looking at, so we want to be sure we have enough minutes.
On Lamar Neagle's return to Charleston: It’s great for him. It’s also great for Caskey, who was sort of in the same situation when we sent him there. In Lamar’s case, as I said to Lamar you have to show that you really want to play this game at that time point. I said. I don’t think you’re going to get time here right now, you have to make that step, he did. It was his initiative and he succeeded. He played well there and continued to move on. We got him back. I think Lamar’s progress shows that even if maybe you’re not one of the top 50 coming out of college and in people’s minds, there’s still a place for you if you continue to work hard … and continue to develop.
On Sounders' relationship with the Battery: Obviously it’s changed because they’re now the team for Vancouver, they now have a relationship with Vancouver, so that’s certainl changed our situation with them. In the past it was a friendship that was really there between Adrian and their owner and between Brian Schmetzer than their coach – and I knew Mike a little bit as well, and we were very confident that he could produce players, and also he was confident in our recommendations and what we were sending him. It worked out really well, and we were able to send a number of players there— (former Sounders trialist Amadou) Sanyang still playing there and was an important member of their team. In the past it was a very good relationship
On why Carolina Challenge Cup: We’ve never been to their tournament. In all my years of coaching I’ve never been to their tournament, either with Columbus or LA. So it was a matter of doing something different. We went to the Desert Diamond Cup last year and said OK let’s do something different and maybe come back to Tucson in the year after I think. If you’re doing the same thing year after year after year the guys get bored with it, I think, even if it’s a good situation. So it was an opportunity to do something different that we haven’t done.
Sounders midfielder OSVALDO ALONSO, formerly of the BatteryOn returning to Charleston: I’m very happy to be back. It’s been a long time. I’m very happy to see my old friends and my old team – the team that opened my door in the U.S. to play professional. So I’m very happy to go back to see them.
Sounders midfielder LAMAR NEAGLE, formerly of the Battery:On Charleston: It’s a very special place for me. It’s where I kind of got started. Obviously I got started here in 2009, halfway through the year, but there wasn’t any reserve league obviously so I didn’t get any games or anything, and Charleston is a place where I could develop. I had a lot of fun, a lot of success. That where I started scoring goals professionally. It was a great time and a great atmosphere. ... It’s quite a while since I’ve been back, so it will be nice to see. There are still three or four of the same guys. John Wilson keeps retiring … but I think he’s still playing.
On his decision to join the Battery: That was a tough time for me. As a player when you’re playing in the top league – in the MLS – and then you have to go down two leagues, it was very tough. … It was either Kitsap or Charleston, and I felt getting away from home and having that time to develop would be good for me, and it ended up being the right decision.