Friday night’s match at CenturyLink Field between Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake is about as big as they come in Major League Soccer as the top two teams in the race for the Supporters’ Shield will meet in front of a monstrous crowd and a national television audience.
At Starfire Sports in Tukwila on Tuesday, Sounders FC Owner and General Manager Adrian Hanauer was well aware of the importance of the match, not only to Seattle’s place in the standings but also to the club’s hopes of winning the Supporters’ Shield. However, he takes a bigger picture approach to the match, knowing that the three points on Friday count the same as any other three points this season.
“It’s a big game. It’s a game for first place. It’s a game against our Western Conference rival. It’s a game against a team that we’ve met in the playoffs on a couple of occasions. You can’t avoid the fact that it’s a big game. And it’s exciting that it’s a big game. But that’s it,” Hanauer said. “It’s a big game and we want to get three points out of it, but we can’t build it into anything else because getting three points against Chicago was massive and getting three points from Chivas before that was massive. We just have to take them one at a time and if we do a good job one at a time, the standings will be kind to us in the end.”
Facing a team like Real Salt Lake provides a good benchmark for Head Coach Sigi Schmid and the Sounders. Seattle and Salt Lake have been among the top three teams in MLS since 2009. They have also met twice in the MLS Cup Playoffs, with Salt Lake advancing in 2011 and Seattle winning in 2012.
However, a win or loss on Friday won’t define the season for Schmid, who noted that Seattle still has seven matches left on the schedule after Friday’s showdown and also holds two games in hand over Salt Lake.
“There are a lot of games to go before the finish line. We can’t think of it as a finish line. We have to look at it as a continuation of what we’re doing, continuing to become better as a team,” Schmid said. “We still really don’t know what our team looks like with everybody out there and see if that even works. There’s still a lot of work to be done between now and the end of the season.”
It’s a far cry from where Seattle was after the first five matches of 2013, when the club was seeking its first victory. While expectations have never waned, the success is due in large part to the steady hands of Hanauer and Schmid, who have kept a steely focus on the end goal.
“Our jobs are to try to keep an even keel and be rational through the craziness. A lot of people were writing us off five games into the season. A lot of people are saying we’re now MLS Cup favorites and Supporters’ Shield favorites,” Hanauer said. “Our job is to keep it even. First try to qualify for the playoffs. Next try to make it through the first round, then the second round … It goes without saying that the team has performed extremely well. That’s a tremendous performance, but it really doesn’t mean much unless we make it to the playoffs and then progress in the playoffs. We’re certainly happier than the alternative, but trying to keep it in perspective.”