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The Greatest Show On Earth

The Sounders will have their chance to impress on the field for 90 minutes against Manchester United tonight, but aren't afraid to stargaze a bit once the final whistle blows.

In the early 20th century, they didn’t come much bigger in show business than Cecil B. Demille.

The director of films like Cleopatra and The Ten Commandments earned him 13 Academy Awards and worldwide acclaim.  Impressing Demille in an audition was like winning the lottery – an opportunity to be in one of his films was a golden ticket to success.

Tonight at CenturyLink Field, the Sounders FC will have that same opportunity, says head coach Sigi Schmid, when they face Manchester United in an international friendly.

“Every player in the back of their mind, whether they say it or not, hopes that this is their breaktrhough game,” Schmid said.  “This is their game in front of Cecil B. Demille and they get discovered.  From that standpoint it also adds a little bit to it.”

The Sounders met two of the biggest clubs in Europe in 2009 when they faced Chelsea and Barcelona.  2010 saw an expansion to some of the top clubs in Mexico and Argentina when they faced Chivas de Guadalajara and Boca Juniors, as well as one of the most storied clubs in Europe in Celtic.

2011 will see that bar raised even higher as they host the most valuable sports franchise in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

And while the players may look at the match as a chance to impress Sir Alex Ferguson and the world class players on the other side of the pitch, it is also a chance to live out their dreams of playing on the same field with those legends.

“It’s going to be a fun game.  It’s been my team since I was a little kid.  It’s a big game for me,” midfielder Erik Friberg said.

Friberg remembers watching matches with his father, former professional player Peter Friberg, growing up and has no question who he will be rooting for from the stands at CenturyLink.

“He’s probably going to like United to win,” he laughed.

It’s not just the players on the field, though.

Schmid has had the chance to test himself against some great coaches in his time, but standing on the sideline with Sir Alex Ferguson – winner of 12 Premier League titles – will be a new experience altogether.

“Wow.  It’s an honor and it’s a privilege.  The things he’s accomplished, I’ve been an admirer of his for a long time and the successes that he’s had,” Schmid said.  “But the players play against each other.  As coaches we just try to create an environment and then get out of the way as soon as possible and let the players play.  It’s certainly an honor for myself, getting the opportunity just to meet him and talk to him a little bit.”

As much as it could be an awe-inspiring moment for some to line up against the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, along with the lengthy list of other Manchester United superstars, they won’t be ignoring the task at hand - doing their best to beat one of the best clubs in the world.

Without a game on the weekend – the match with the Philadelphia Union originally scheduled for July 23 was moved to October 8 to make way for a friendly between the Union and Real Madrid – the Sounders don’t need to be concerned with resting their players for league play.  Their next competitive match will be July 26 in the CONCACAF Champions League against Panama’s San Francisco, then they will face the Houston Dynamo July 30 in their next MLS match.
The opportunity is there for the Sounders to put their best feet forward and they intend to do so.

“Our fans are waiting for us to try to play the game to win, not just have fun and watch them play,” said midfielder Mauro Rosales, who faced Manchester United in a friendly while playing with Ajax in Holland.  “We have to play serious and try to enjoy it too because we are playing against one of the biggest teams in the world.”

After the match, they will again have the opportunity to be fans.  That’s when they traditionally are able to trade jerseys with their opponents.

Friberg, for one, already has a post-match plan in place.

“I’m going to try and get every one,” he said of the jersey exchanges.  “If I have to choose one it would be Giggs.”

Kickoff is slated for 7 pm.  The match will be televised on Fox Soccer with Arlo White providing the radio broadcast on 97.3 KIRO FM.