TUKWILA, Wash. – After making history, you move on. That’s how time works, whether the Seattle Sounders want to stay in Tuesday’s moment or not.
To their credit, they don’t. After opening the season with 1-0 losses to Montréal and at Tigres, the Sounders were eager to jumpstart their campaign, and that’s exactly what happened Tuesday night. Three second half goals against Tigres not only vaulted the Sounders into CONCACAF Champions League’s semifinals, it helped wash the lingering taste of the Montréal disappointment out of their mouths.
“It’s good for confidence,” Sounder forward Eddie Johnson (pictured) said of after practice on Thursday, talking about the lingering effects of Tuesday’s result. “You go two games without winning and you start getting that pressure from fans (and) from coach.”
Pressure was non-issue on Thursday, even with one of the more important games of the season only two days away. Players were relaxed as they returned to practice from a day off, the lift from their Tuesday heroics relieving any tension that had built during their disappointing start.
There were no obvious tensions, no weights being carried ahead of the season’s first Cascadia Cup derby. Instead, there was anticipation – anticipation not only for the game but to pick up where they left off.
“You saw today in training everyone was excited to be back and talking about the result and what we did as a team,” Andy Rose said. “Obviously going into a rivalry game against Portland your spirits are going to be up and you want to be confident, so that’s great.”
But after making history on Tuesday, becoming the first Major League Soccer team to eliminate a Mexican side in Champions League competition, the question is whether the team might get overconfident. With the squad still talking about Tigres two days later, could the team shift focus?
How do you move from one high to another?
“It’s just human nature that sometimes after a high you have a little bit of a lull,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid (right) said when asked about the potential for a letdown. “It’s important for [the players] individually to motivate themselves, for us as a team to motivate ourselves, and obviously us as a coaching staff we’re going to do our best to make sure they’re ready to go and out motivated.
“We talked a little bit about ‘Okay, here’s what comes next in the Champions League, but that’s weeks, weeks away now, and we have to focus on what we have to do on Saturday.'”
Seattle is being patient with that transition. The team got Wednesday off after Tuesday’s 7:00 p.m. kickoff. The regulars who featured against Tigres didn’t go through full practice on Thursday. Friday will be the only full practice between Tuesday’s win and Saturday’s derby.
That’s when Seattle will really start preparing for Caleb Porter’s new look Timbers. Players will see tape. They’ll get scouting reports. They’ll walk through Schmid’s preparations for his new northwest rival.
But until then, Portland remains in the distance.
“We’ve not spoken about [them],” former Akron star Steve Zakuani said, asked whether teammates had inquired about the winger’s former college coach. “We’ll address [Portland] tomorrow, watch videos and stuff. Every player will do their homework on [Portland] and know what we’ve got to do.”
Rookie right back DeAndre Yedlin just finished two years under Porter in Ohio. Talk about his experiences under Portland’s boss have remained confined to him and Zakuani.
“Between me and Steve there’s a lot (of talk), but not really [within] the team,” Yedlin said.
But if the specifics of Portland’s new team were still unknown to Seattle, the importance of the rivalry was not. In the wake their Tuesday comeback, Sounders players were already answering questions on their season’s first derby, media in attendance at CenturyLink Field balancing Champions League importance against Cascadia Cup anticipation.
“It’s part of what we live with,” Schmid said, denying that the Cascadia Cup ever becomes a distraction. “It’s part of our culture as a club and the culture here in the northwest that the rivalry exists between the three teams, and it’s something that’s competed for every year, and it’s something that brings pride to our fans.”
That significance makes it a stand out occasion for players, too.
“These are the games that [we as players] look forward to: The Classicos,” Johnson said. “[It’s the] importance of the games and how much they mean to our organization. These are big games.”
Even for players that have experienced big matches in other places, Seattle-Portland is special.
“Incredible,” is how the London-raised Zakuani described the atmosphere. “I was just speaking with [Johnson and Djimi Traore] about it. They’ve obviously played in England. I’ve obviously been around England my whole life. You see some games like Arsenal-Tottenham, Liverpool-Everton, and the atmosphere just goes up to a different level. It’s not like there’s more fans or something in the stadium. They just bring their A-game, and the players need to do the same as well.
“These derby games, it’s amazing for the league. Great for us. Great for them. The fans get into it. The players get into it. It’s just an unbelievable atmosphere. Playing in front of our fans is great every time, but Portland is just a little bit more.”
That “little bit more” may keep Seattle from lingering on Tuesday’s laurels. No matter the history behind their Champions League result, few North American soccer experiences can overshadow the atmosphere the near-40,000 attendees will create on Saturday.
“In a way it’s good to have this game,” Schmid said, asked about the difficulties of moving on from history. “[A Cascadia Cup derby] is a game that requires all your attention right away.”