Ask anyone involved – player, coach or fan – and they will tell you that there is a different kind of buzz during the week of a rivalry game. In a nine-day stretch, Sounders FC will play three games against its Cascadia rivals, bringing that intensity to new heights.
Seattle opens the gauntlet week with a road contest against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday and continue with a U.S. Open Cup match against the Portland Timbers on July 9 at Starfire Stadium. The festive week ends the following Sunday, July 13, with CenturyLink Field expanded to full capacity for Seattle’s only home regular season match of the year against the Timbers.
“It’s hard to express how crazy those games are,” said Sounders FC midfielder Lamar Neagle. “Those are the games you want to play in. They live up to the expectations for sure and we can anticipate some crazy games, especially when we play them so close.”
This is the second time in as many seasons that Seattle will face both Cascadia Cup opponents in consecutive league matches, after the same happened in October last season. The match in between at Starfire in the Open Cup adds a new dynamic, as Seattle and Portland will face each other twice in just five days.
To Neagle, the Open Cup match at Starfire is a special opportunity. The Sounders and Timbers have met in the Open Cup twice since 2009, but both times occurred in Portland while the Timbers were still in the USL.
While the capacity is much lower at the Tukwila stadium, it only seems to amplify the intensity.
“I look forward to the games at Starfire,” Neagle said. “It’s such a different atmosphere and a different setting, but it’s still so intense.”
Seattle Head Coach Sigi Schmid knows the different dynamic to the rivalry games and is planning to prepare Sounders FC accordingly. That may mean some squad rotation to get the team through the three matches, something that will be somewhat forced because of players missing some matches and returning for others.
Obafemi Martins will return from his red card suspension on Saturday at Vancouver to play his first match since June 7, while Seattle will be without Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda while the midfield duo serves suspensions of their own for yellow card accumulation. In addition, Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin are scheduled to return this week from Brazil, where they both represented the U.S. in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. While Schmid doesn’t anticipate that either will play on Saturday, they could see a return to action in the July 13 match against Portland.
“It’s going to be physical and intense and psychologically very demanding,” Schmid said. “We just have to make sure that we get our work in this week in practice and are prepared. Those are going to be three tough games.”