In his downtime, Fredy Montero can often be found playing FIFA on his Xbox 360.
He virtually plays with and against some of the top teams in the world. So when he has the opportunity to physically go toe-to-toe with those players that he controls in the video game world, it’s quite the experience for the 24 year old Sounders forward.
“When you see those players when you play on Xbox or when you watch those international games on Champions League, and you have those players next to you, you feel amazing,” he grinned at training this week. “You feel proud of yourself and proud to be on this team because that is the only opportunity I have to play with that kind of team.”
Having already faced Chelsea and Barcelona in 2009, Celtic, Boca Juniors and Chivas de Guadalajara in 2010 and Manchester United in 2011, Montero will again face off with Chelsea in a friendly on July 18, exactly three years to the day since their last appearance at CenturyLink Field.
In 2009, 65,289 fans packed CenturyLink Field and saw a well-contested 2-0 defeat for the Sounders FC, with Daniel Sturridge and Frank Lampard scoring for Chelsea on a beautiful summer day. A great relationship was struck between the two organizations in the days surrounding the match, paving the way for a return trip from the Blues this year.
“Chelsea is one of the great teams in the world, which is something we’re really focused on. We have a great relationship with the organization,” Sounders FC owner/general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “They have an exciting team and they could potentially be Champions League champions. It’s a great opportunity for our fans for our team to play against a top club like Chelsea.”
Like the 2011 friendly with Manchester United, this season’s friendly is part of the season ticket package, but will also have tickets available as part of a four-game pack that includes home matches against the LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Last year, that meant a crowd of 46,065 saw the Sounders top the New York Red Bulls 4-2 and 64,140 were on hand for Kasey Keller’s final regular season home match, a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.
That on top of the 67,052 fans who saw the match against Manchester United.
The Sounders are hoping to build on that box-office success for the MLS matches included in the package this year.
“We wanted to put together an extremely attractive package. The idea is to try to get 50,000-plus to all of those games and expose some new fans to the team. And give some people who maybe can’t afford a season ticket another product to be able to buy,” Hanauer said. “That atmosphere in the stadium with 50-, 55-, 60,000 fans is unbelievable and gives us that little bit of additional edge as far as a home field advantage goes.”
For all of the success of the MLS matches associated with the package in 2011, the friendly against Manchester United left a sour taste in the mouths of some fans at the match. After the Sounders remained within striking distance with just a 1-0 halftime deficit, head coach Sigi Schmid emptied his bench to start the second half, fulfilling a vow to his players that he would do what he could to give everyone the opportunity to play. The result was a 7-0 thrashing, as Manchester United scored at will in the second half.
That, Hanauer said, was a learning experience for the team that has them reassessing how they approach the international friendlies.
“We still think it’s an opportunity for players to get experience against these teams. We still have to manage minutes because we are going to have league games in the same time frame. But at the same time, we want to win the game and we probably will manage it slightly differently,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to repeat a 7-0 result.”
While many of the returning Sounders players have had the chance to face top-caliber international competition during their career, rookies like UCLA product Andy Rose will have their first crack at the players and clubs they grew up watching.
“I wouldn’t mind sticking a couple past Chelsea,” said Rose, who grew up in Bristol, England, rooting for Manchester United. “But obviously to play against guys like Frank Lampard and John Terry will be an incredible experience and I’m really excited for it.”
The four-game ticket package is on sale now at SoundersFC.com.