When the UEFA Champions League title holder comes to town, rarely can that club’s appearance be outshined by a player of any caliber on the home side.
In Seattle, though, Roger Levesque’s retirement after the Sounders FC host Chelsea in a friendly match on Wednesday night has brought as many headlines as the Champions League and FA Cup winners who are making their second appearance in three years.
However, Levesque isn’t one to seek the attention that will undoubtedly be placed on him as he plays his last professional game with over 50,000 in attendance at CenturyLink Field.
“It’s going to be this amazing soccer celebration. Outside of whatever I’ve got going on. That’s small potatoes compared to Chelsea coming into the city. That’s the Champions League champions, arguably the best team in the world,” he said. “It will give people a little taste of friendly competition and see how our guys match up.”
The Chelsea squad on the other side of the ball will be a different one than the team that faced the Sounders three years ago to the day. Of the 11 starters from that match in 2009, only Petr Cech and Frank Lampard are expected to be available. Four others who appeared in the match for the English club are also on the travel roster this week, though the club has been boosted by off-season midfield signings Eden Hazard and Marko Marin.
“Teams always change, invariably. Change occurs because of players performances when you’re a buying club like Chelsea,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “They’ve got other options – options that we probably haven’t heard of.”
The Sounders have yet to top a European club in their mid-season friendlies. They fell 2-0 to Chelsea and 4-0 to Barcelona in 2009, lost 2-1 to Celtic in 2010 and then 7-0 to Manchester United last year.
This year, Seattle’s approach will differ from the game last year against Manchester United, when Schmid made wholesale changes at halftime to get players in the game. Coming in the middle of a busy portion of the schedule, Schmid had to be mindful of his team’s fitness during that stretch. This time around, Schmid plans to give players more minutes since the Sounders don’t play again for ten days after the friendly.
“We want to do well. Last year was a strange one for us,” Schmid said. “It’s something we’re looking forward to. We’re hoping they haven’t found their Champions League sharpness at this point, but as always these international games, for our players, are a great opportunity and are something that they always look forward to.”
Meanwhile, Levesque is one reserve who will definitely be seeing playing time. While the atmosphere will be one of competition, he said he will take an extra moment or two to breath in the experience.
“I’m just going to try and enjoy it as much as possible and be very present and mindful of what’s going on,” he smiled. “I don’t want to miss a thing.”
Kickoff is slated for 6:30pm Pacific, with television coverage on ESPN2. Tickets are still available at Ticketmaster.com