All points mean the same in the standings when the MLS season comes to an end.
However, even Sigi Schmid admits that the points at stake on Saturday when the Sounders FC face the Columbus Crew mean just a little bit more to him.
Schmid coached the Crew from 2006-2008 and won an MLS Cup and Supporter’s Shield with them in 2008 before signing on as the first head coach of the Sounders FC.
Now back in Columbus for the second time, Schmid still gets a warm reception from his former staff with the Crew and around the city that he called home for three years.
“You want to do your best in every job you’re in and when you go away and you realize that people appreciate what you did and they receive you warmly when you come back makes me feel great,” Schmid said. “It shows that the work we did was appreciated.”
He may get a warm reception, but once the game starts, Schmid feels anything but warmth.
As the matchday approaches, the team has a greater attention to detail, mirroring their coach.
“You’re a little sharpened, you’re a little heightened. It’s just like going into a playoff game,” Schmid said. “The preparation is similar, but there’s a little up-tick in your alertness and your enthusiasm. It’s just a natural thing when your kicks in. It’s not saying that you don’t take the other games seriously, but there’s a little bit extra that’s attributed to the game.”
Schmid’s club also has extra motivation heading into matches with Columbus. If they don’t, Schmid jokingly says he will remind them of the importance. If that doesn’t work, he says, Ezra Hendrickson, who finished his 12-year MLS career with the Crew, has no problem pointing it out.
As a result, the Sounders are an unbeaten 1-0-2 against the Crew, including a win in Columbus last year.
“There is a rivalry between us and Columbus - a friendly rivalry because of Sigi’s connections - so we’ve been very good against them,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “Our trainings are always competitive, but you can see him paying extra attention to detail.”
Added Tyrone Marshall, “We definitely match up well against them. Sigi gives us good information and if we go out and execute, then it comes down to who scores that one goal to win the game.”
The Sounders have not forgotten their last meeting at Crew Stadium when Roger Levesque scored and the ever-reliable Guillermo Barros Schelotto missed a penalty kick and the Sounders walked out 1-0 victors, stopping the Crew’s 22-match home unbeaten streak.
It was a huge moment for the Sounders FC as they pushed toward the playoffs.
“I thought we were tactically pretty disciplined in that game and we got a timely goal,” Schmid said. “It was very satisfying result, but I wouldn’t call it one of our best games. I think tactically we were good. We were very motivated. We had it as a goal to stop that streak as well.”
That match was also a homecoming for Zakuani, who played his college soccer at the University of Akron. With his first trip back to the first state that introduced the Congo-born, England-raised Zakuani to America also came some distractions. He says those won’t be as prominent this time around because of the extra day in Columbus brought by the team’s travels in the CONCACAF Champions League.
After Tuesday night’s 2-0 loss to Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica, the club flew to Columbus on Wednesday and trained on Thursday, a full day earlier than they normally would have traveled to Ohio.
“Last year there was too much around the game. I did a long interview and so many friends asked for tickets,” Zakuani said. “This year, I’ve been able to talk on the phone with them so on Friday and Saturday I can really focus on the game.”
All friendships and rivalries aside, the Sounders FC need points from this match. Currently tied for fifth in the Western Conference and seventh overall in MLS, they are holding on to the final playoff spots and every point gained inches them closer to the postseason.
“For us, it’s trying to stay up in the playoff race and keep it in our own hands and not have to rely on other teams,” Zakuani said.
On the other side of the field, aside from a familiar foe, is a dangerous foe that has the second best record in MLS.
“At the end of the day it’s about us performing. The bigger picture is about us getting points to maintain where we are and keep ourselves in the playoff race,” Schmid said. “We want to accumulate as many points as we can. All those extra things are important for the team’s preparation.”
The match kicks off at 4:30 pm (Pacific Time) on Saturday. The two teams will meet again October 5 at Qwest Field in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final.