Brian Schmetzer says his Sounders getting their championship rings should mark the official turning of a page on last season for a struggling team needing to focus on upcoming games like a showdown against the arch-rival Portland Timbers on Saturday
You’d think a private morning ceremony in which they received their MLS Cup championship rings would be used by the Sounders as a motivational moment.
After all, the team has won just three times this season and could use a reminder that they are indeed capable of championship caliber play. But not according to coach Brian Schmetzer, who said Tuesday the ring ceremony — which included members of the team’s office staff — was quickly forgotten by design.
“We tried to turn the page, actually,” Schmetzer said. “So, everything that we’ve done up until this moment has been great. We’ve won a championship and everything. And we’ve had appearances and we’ve had some good press about the Sounders finally winning a championship.
“And all of that is great,” he added. “They rewarded themselves last year for all the hard work that they did. They got rewarded today with the actual presentation, with the rings, which was great because of all the office staff as well. So, it was one oganizational moment that was pretty special. And so now, what we said after that was ‘Enjoy your ring. We’re going to go back to work because we’ve got a big match coming up on Saturday.’ ”
The Sounders-Timbers northwestern derby would already have hearts pumping even if these weren’t the two most recent MLS Cup champions. The Timbers, like the Sounders this season, struggled last year in defending their 2015 title.
Now, it’s the Timbers, at 5-3-4 and one point out of a tie for second place in the Western Conference, trying to take advantage of a defending champion Sounders squad that — at 3-4-5 — has struggled to score goals and find wins. Throw in the traveling Timbers Army band of fanatical visiting supporters and you’ve got the makings of an intense game between two sides that love to inflict distress upon one another.
“If I were to give a compliment to the Timbers Army, it would be that they are very passionate about their team,” Schmetzer said. “I may not agree with all the things they say or do, or individuals within that group, but they do have a passion for their team, which I respect.”
Schmetzer was part of the rivalry as a Sounders’ player in the North American Soccer League in the 1980s, then later as a coach in their United Soccer League games and then the current Major League Soccer version. And some of the epic battles and on-field controversies and confrontations still linger on the grudge scale.
“We still remember 2013,” Schmetzer said of getting knocked out of the playoffs by Portland. “I remember that.”
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said any Portland game will always have “a little edge to it” and bring out the best in both sides.
“It’s just natural for teams to want to get a bit more fiesty and to want to stick it to your rival,” he said. “I’m sure they’re excited because we won last year. I’ve mentioned before that when they won the year before, I felt like it was a chance for us to take it upon ourselves…to knock them off their horse. And I think they’re probably going to be thinking the same thing.”
And Frei has no doubt it will get emotional.
“People sometimes get upset when you hear players, or coaches or GMs make comments about how they don’t like the opponents’ field and other things. But those are real emotions. And I think for rivalries, you need to have real emotions.”
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said any rivalry game is “a difficult, hard-fought match” and his team expects one. The last time these teams played at CenturyLink Field last August, Roldan scored the last of three second-half goals by the Sounders to defeat Portland 3-1 in a game that set the stage for the team’s late-season turnaround and championship run.
Stopping 6-foot-4, 185-pound Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi, Portland’s all-time scoring leader, will pose a special physical challenge Saturday for bruising Sounders defenders Chad Marshall, Gustav Svensson and Roman Torres — the latter still coming off a sore hamstring.
“It’s going to be a difficult fight, but our guys are up for it,” Roldan said.