MLS First Kick was a whole new experience for James Riley on Thursday night.
Not because of the over 36,000 in attendance creating an electric atmosphere at Qwest Field.
Nor because of the thrill of opening the season with a national television audience on ESPN2.
Not even because of the 2-0 Sounders FC victory over the Philadelphia Union.
It was because Riley was in a suite with some teammates watching the game instead of on the field. A red card against the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup Playoffs last year meant a one-game suspension for Riley in Game One this season. That gave Riley three months to prepare for Game Two and a great view for the season opener.
“It was cool to see it from a bird’s eye view,” Riley said after training on Tuesday. “It was a different perspective and I’d rather see it from the field than in the box, but that helps me press to get back into the starting lineup.”
Preparing for the game against New York, when he is a likely starter for the Sounders FC, is much different than getting the rest of the team ready for a game against the Union by playing a reserve role in training sessions.
“The preparation to get onto the 18 and hopefully get into the game has a different preparation,” Riley said. “I thought the guys went out and worked really hard last week and were able to start the season with a ‘W.’ We want to be able to continue that, especially with a new New York team coming in. We know they’ll be different than last year, but we’ll be looking to get on them early.”
The Sounders can use Riley’s veteran savvy and offensive prowess against a New York team that has improved greatly over their 5-19-6 season of 2009. They were quite impressive in their 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire at brand new Red Bull Arena on Saturday, getting the lone goal from newcomer Joel Lindpere out of the midfield.
Riley didn’t have to wait until Saturday to start looking at the Red Bulls though. His preparations started as soon as he finished a 3-1 win in a reserve game Friday morning against Oregon State University.
“Preparation began Friday after the game. So I’ve been focusing on that,” Riley said, taking note of New York’s improvements. “A new coach, new players and a bit more dynamic. It’s a new stadium and a fantastic stadium and to start the season with a win, they will come in with a different kind of attitude. We’ll be expecting that.”
Riley took on a bit of an injury in the win over Oregon State, causing him to leave training early on Monday. However, he looked “sharp” according to Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid in Tuesday’s training session. It also adds a new dimension for Schmid against the Red Bulls.
“James is an important part of our team because of his ability not only to defend and hold down the right back spot for us last year but he is also very helpful as we are bringing the ball forward. He is a player who gets himself involved in the attack,” Schmid said. “He is a player who has got good distribution out of the back and that just makes us a team that becomes a little more versatile - a little better attacking-wise also.”
Riley played in 28 games in 2009, logging 2,334 minutes, a team-high among field players.
The Sounders will face the Red Bulls Saturday night at 7:30 at Qwest Field. The game will be televised nationally on Fox Soccer Channel.