Is it the beginning of the end?
Or another step forward toward start of something big?
On Saturday evening at Starfire, the Sounders host their final regular season home match as a USL First Division side.
Although they will come back to play at least another game on that ground in the playoffs, this is a significant date, one which is on the minds of coaches, players, staff and, of course, the fans.
“This is it, and our players realize this is historic and unique,” says general manager Bart Wiley. “They are aware of the magnitude of this match. It’s also a little tricky.”
In some ways, the sentiment will resemble that of a commencement. It’s poignant, in that it is the marking of time, a rite of passage from one phase of life to the next.
Some could be saddened as they reflect upon those summer nights at Memorial Stadium, Qwest or now Starfire, and the feats of Fry and Hattrup, Megson and James, Gregor and Jenkins. On the other hand, there’s a light beaming on the horizon.
“A lot of people are excited about Major League Soccer coming next year,” Wiley says. “The fact that Sounders name was voted upon to continue to the next era of MLS soccer in Seattle, that speaks volumes to the number of people who’ve followed and loved the Sounders in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and up to now.
“Yes, the USL franchise is going away, but the Sounders are going to continue in Major League Soccer.”
Heart of the Matter
Seattle players can’t afford to be melancholy, not with so much riding on the outcome of their match and also in consideration who will be standing on the other side of the circle.
Vancouver would no doubt like to take a bite out of the Sounders before they move on. With a win, the Whitecaps would reclaim the Cascadia Cup for the first time in three seasons. They would also punctuate this cross-border derby with a positive after going winless (0-2-2) in the last four meetings.
Seattle can finish as high as third by beating Vancouver, but a loss would leave them as the No. 6 seed heading into the postseason.
“There will definitely be some emotion,” says coach Brian Schmetzer. “It’s the end of an era, the end of the rivalry, and some guys have been here with us a long time.”
More than 30 games into the season, Schmetzer remains confident that Seattle is capable of coming out on top, but even he has his questions.
Whomever the Sounders face in the playoffs, they will have their hands full. Seattle has won at both Puerto Rico and Vancouver. Yet it has managed only two wins in the last seven starts.
“I haven’t figured ‘em out completely,” admits Schmetzer. “There’s some positives. It’s a veteran team and we have good leadership and we know what we need to do to. But going out and doing it is another matter.
“We haven’t been playing up to our potential. Sure,” he says, “we have excuses: the rash of injuries, the distraction of MLS and the unique pressure some of these players feel. But at the end of the day, we have got to perform.”
And Arrive Early
A big crowd is coming to Tukwila, and it’s arriving early.
It’s Washington Youth Soccer Night with activities beginning at 5:30. For the adults, the Budweiser Beer Garden opens the taps at 4. Kickoff is 7 o’clock and seating is first come, first served.
Team posters will be distributed and following the final whistle,
fans are invited down to the pitch for autographs. Imagine what those
signatures will be going for on some day.
Turn On, Tune In
Without question, the TV match of the week comes Sunday. Manchester United’s title defense, already in peril after a mediocre start, could be all but ended by Chelsea.
Going in, the Blues own a six-point lead over United, which has a game in hand. A nine-point spread would be big, even at this early stage. Chelsea is unbeaten in 84 league home matches since 2004 while the Red Devils have managed only four games in five games overall.
The twist: Kickoff is 5:30 a.m. on Fox Soccer Channel. Question is: Will you be there, live, in your jammies?
On Saturday morning, two train wrecks collide. West Ham hosts Newcastle (FSC, 7).
In MLS, you can catch the Red Patch Boys in HD on Saturday night (HDNet, 5 p.m.), while Bruce Arena, still looking for his first win with the Galaxy, meets his first pro team, D.C. United (FSC, 8 p.m.).
Next week, Houston and D.C. will be involved in Champions League play. The Dynamo plays at Panama’s San Francisco on Tuesday (FSC, 5 p.m.) and United visits Marathon of Honduras on Wednesday (FSC, 7).
Three DPs will be on display for MLS Primetime Thursday. David Beckham, Landon Donovan and L.A. travel to Chicago to meet Cuauhtémoc Blanco (and Brian McBride) and the Fire (ESPN2, 6 p.m.).
Two other playoff-bound USL teams are continuing to impress in CONCACAF Champions League play. Puerto Rico and Montreal both won their group stage openers this week…Some local collegiate teams are making their official home debuts this weekend. The Washington men host the 20th annual Husky Fever Classic beginning Friday night on Montlake. The UW faces Cal State Fullerton at 7. New Mexico meets Portland at 4:30. Sunday's doubleheader begins at 11…The Seattle University women play their first home date Sunday at 1 against Portland State…Are the unbeaten (6-0-0) Washington women for real? We shall soon see. They visit No. 28 Purdue on Friday and No. 23 Illinois on Sunday. Also winners of six straight are the SPU women…Hope Solo and Tina (Frimpong) Ellertson, both ex-Huskies, are bound for St. Louis for the inaugural season of Women’s Professional Soccer. Solo and the U.S. WNT completes the post-Olympic tour Saturday, facing Ireland in Chicago…The 14-man U.S. team for the FIFA Futsal World Cup includes Nick Vorberg of Grants Pass, Ore. The opening match for the USA is Sept. 30 against Paraguay in Brazil...Darren Sawatzky, the Sounders FC youth development director, has been appointed head coach of the Washington boys ODP staff.