The Sounders got on a bus this morning, drove down to Portland, and trained in near-perfect weather at Jeld-Wen Field. Then coach Sigi Schmid let a handful of half dozen or so media members, and all of those topics were part of the discussion:
On the derby) You try and prepare all the same all the time. But you know it’s Portland. There’s going to be a lot more concentration and emotion in the game, which makes the game more difficult to play. But I think this is great. This is not something that we have as an everyday occurance in MLS, and I think this is great for the league.
Thoughts on the renovated stadium) The reserve team played here, so I’ve seen it. I think they’ve done a tremendous job with the stadium – the way they brought the stands in on the outfield side looks good. The beer gardens look nice – too bad I can’t hang out there during the game. The field obviously is a huge improvement over what the field was. When these fields are new like this then they play very well. If we stay with turf fields, some teams we need to get those turf fields replaced as often as possible.
On whether the Sounders have ever faced this kind of crowd) Monterrey was obviously good. I think our first year there Toronto was very good. LA was very good there on July Fourth. But we’re actually looking forward to being able to play in front of a crowd that’s going to get us motivated. A lot of times on away games you’ve got to get yourself motivated, get yourself into the game, your focus on the game. When we play at home a lot of teams take advantage of our crowd – it gets them pumped up and they realize it’s a tremendous atmosphere. This is great for us because obviously there’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere here. … I think the guys are excited, but nobody’s going to be overly excited. We’re trying to keep everything on an even keel.
On the cliche of throwing the records out for a rivalry game) It’s a little bit different. Yeah, there’s parity in MLS for sure – more parity than there is in other top leagues, and just the difference between top and bottom is different. It would be like taking 12 teams in the EPL or 14 teams and just having them play against each other. But it is different because you know the focus and concentration is going to be higher. I think in the past, when you really look at it in the United States, even in pro basketball and pro football, there are rivalries but they’re not really deep rivalries. It’s more when you go to college football and you’ve got the Texas A&Ms against the Texas, you’ve got Stanford against Cal, Washington against Washington State, Oregon against Oregon State, not to mention SC against UCLA. Those are the real rivalry games, and even in soccer sometimes, when I was coaching in college soccer I would much rather play a College of Charleston in a playoff game than have to play Cal State Fullerton, even though the College of Charleston might have been a better team at that point. Or somebody else: Indiana might have been a better team. It’s just the rivalry aspect of it. I know Bruce Arena, when he was at Virginia, he struggled beating Loyola of Maryland because he never played them during the regular season. It was a rivalry game. So I think you do throw the records out when it comes to a rivalry game because the emotions run so high.
On the warm clear weather) I think it will be a little bit different. Obviously this surface plays well. It’s a little bit spongy and a little bit sticky, but it plays well. It plays a lot more like grass, so I think that’s good. Not having to play in rain is always a plus. The sun will be out. I don’t think it will be overly hot. I think it will be good weather-wise.
On if the smaller pitch will affect the game) It just means we have to move the ball a little bit quicker. We have to move it a little bit quicker because time and space is at a premium here because the field is a little bit smaller. In the old days when San Jose used to play at Spartan Stadium it was like that as well. Some of our guys have experienced that. When football season starts then New England’s field gets a little smaller. You’ve just got to play the ball quicker, you’ve got to move the ball quicker. You maybe can’t get away with as many dribbles because the second and third defenders are there quicker.
On the bus ride down) Climbing on a bus: That’s really nice. We were really happy when Portland and Vancouver joined the league. We actually have I thing five (road) games in our own time zone. When I coached L.A. early on in the league that was not the case. We were always going to another time zone to play games, it seemed. From that standpoint, it’s great. This kind of game, it’s an away game, but it gives it a lot more of a European feel: getting on a bus, driving to a town that’s a couple of hours away, and playing the game. It’s similar to what you do if you’re going to be Man United and you’re going to play Aston Villa.
On the game being on ESPN) It feels great. I’m just happy for soccer in the U.S. and for the league. If the rivalry means more people are going to turn on the TV and watch a game, that’s the key. I wish the U.S. women’s team a lot of luck in the game that’s on before ours, and I hope people stay with it and watch this game and get a feel for what an MLS experience is like.