When Chelsea’s Mike Forde arrived in America this week looking to make the Blues that much better, he wasn’t necessarily shopping for the next Jozy Altidore. He was seeking ideas.
Forde, the director of performance, is always on the prowl for innovations, new techniques or whatever information he can retrieve to stretch Roman Abramovich’s wealth even further.
Forde says there is a genuine curiosity throughout the sport’s European establishment about Major League Soccer, a notion which may seem strange considering that the Old World is the seat of power.
“America has its own way of tackling new challenges,” says Forde, “and we’re curious about how you’re going to take the game forward. We’re looking to see what strategies these fantastic club executives and owners plan to implement, on and off the pitch.”
“We can learn a lot about the best practices of MLS teams and non-MLS teams,” he says. “The game was built under a different construct, with the salary caps, etc., but that doesn’t make it any worse or any better (than Europe), it’s just different. “
Chelsea is a big club in more ways than one. Nearly 500 people are involved, from academy players at age 8 through the senior team, to the various coaching and support staff. In his role, Forde tries to find little nuggets which may take Chelsea a notch higher from an already lofty perch.
“We don’t necessarily find something that will make us 10 percent
better in one area,” Forde says, “but we may find something that makes
us 1 percent better in 10 different areas throughout the club.”
Money Isn’t Everything
Money cures a lot of ills. Since Chelsea was sold to Abramovich in 2003, the club has won two Premiership titles and, altogether, five major trophies, more than any other English club in the same period. It missed a European crown last year by the slightest of margins.
Forde met Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer and technical director Chris Henderson last spring. Building a team, whether it be finishing touches in the case of the Blues or from scratch, in the case of Seattle, is seldom about just signing the most talented players available.
“We’re incredibly fortunate to have an excellent owner,” one who is known to spend whatever it takes to acquire an exceptional individual, be it a new manager (Luis Felipe Scolari) or player (this year, Deco). “Our obligation is to build upon that opportunity.”
When interviewing potential new players, Forde says Chelsea and other successful clubs are mindful of which players would be welcomed and mesh with the key leaders.
“History will teach you that, yes, it’s about the combination of talent,” he says, “but it’s also about the people who fit the dynamic of that team, who fit the dynamic of that particular club’s culture.”
Each season the dynamic changes. New leaders emerge and a new paradigm evolves. The club management must constantly adapt. Adding a big star is not always the best option.
Chelsea has its established leaders in John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ricardo Carvalho. Seattle is pouring the foundation of Sounders FC with the signing of Kasey Keller.
Before searching for the next striker or sweeper, what’s important, says Forde, is for the club to know thy self.
“You’re not always looking for the best player available because
that player may not work with the fabric of your club,” says Forde.
“You have to understand the heartbeat of the club, and the heartbeat of
the club is the players.”
All Things Playoffs
Seattle hosts Montreal in its USL First Division quarterfinal opener Friday night at Starfire, with the return game in Quebec on Sunday.
The Sounders are overdue for a solid performance, and they may be catching the Impact at an opportune time. Montreal is traveling to Tukwila after hosting a demanding CONCACAF Champions League match against Mexico’s Atlante on Wednesday.
Strangely, in the three matches between the Sounders and Impact this season, the home team has yet to win. Seattle lost and drew at home, and it won on the road.
By far the best place to watch the deciding game on Sunday will be along with the Emerald City Supporters. They are gathering for the 2 p.m. PT kickoff at the Atlantic Crossing Pub (6508 Roosevelt Way NE) to watch the USLlive webcast on the big screen.
Happy hour pricing will be in effect for the ECS entourage and
supporters club memberships (with scarf, shirt and card inclusive) will
be available for purchase.
Turn On, Tune In
As for the regular TV fare, it should be noted that the first offering should be watched only as part of a pregame ritual at Starfire or recorded and screened afterward when sufficiently hoarse from cheering the Sounders on to victory.
The MLS SuperDraft is a long way off, but chances are that someone of interest will be on the pitch Friday night when No. 1 Wake Forest visits No. 2 (or No. 3, depending upon the poll) Maryland. Remember that Sounders FC owns the top pick in January. Fox Soccer Channels airs the Terps-Deacons match live at 5 p.m. PT.
On Saturday, the Merseyside derby renewal requires either waking in the middle of the night to see it live (Setanta, 4:45 a.m. PT) or getting a wee bit more shuteye before going to a local pub for taped viewings later in the morning.
Another derby on the docket comes Sunday from Serie A and the San Siro, with Milan and Inter (11:30 a.m. PT, FSC). Lots of stars are due out that night, not to mention the Special One.
On the domestic front, two teams scrapping for the final playoff spot in the MLS West meet Saturday (7 p.m. PT, HDNet). The expansion Earthquakes host Real Salt Lake. Next week, Mexican powers Pumas and Cruz Azul face Houston and D.C. United, respectively, in CONCACAF Champions League (FSC, Tues. at 7 a.m. PT, Wed. at 5 a.m. PT).
It’s also a Champions League week over in Europe. On Tuesday, ESPN2
has now ([as of Sept. 27] opted to show Manchester United squeezing
into the little park of Denmark's Aalborg. For Wednesday, it Dutch
champion PSV Eindhoven venturing to Liverpool. Both begin at 11:45 a.m.
Women’s Professional Soccer held its allocation of international players’ negotiation rights earlier this week, with four of the seven first-round selections coming from Brazil. Formiga was taken first by Bay Area, followed by Kelly Smith (England) to Boston and Marta (Brazil) to Los Angeles. A four-round draft to disperse W-League players, including those from Seattle, will be held Oct. 6…The U-Dub women, ranked No. 21 by Soccer Buzz, open a Sunday doubleheader at noon against Hawaii. Winners in four of their last five outings, the Washington men host Gonzaga on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. PT …In all, five of the state’s small colleges have programs which are nationally-ranked. The Puget Sound women rate the highest, at No. 5 in Div. III. Whitworth is ninth and Western Washington and Seattle Pacific are 16-17 in Div. II. For the men, Whitworth is No. 8.