Porter, Schmid differ on magnitude of Sunday’s showdown
By MIchael Ligot, Seattle Editor
Portland’s coach downplayed the event angle. Seattle’s embraced it.
In successive conference calls, the Portland Timbers Head Coach Caleb Porter said he’s using a one-game-at-a-time approach for Sunday’s Cascadia Cup match in Seattle, while his Seattle Sounders FC counterpart Sigi Schmid celebrated the spotlight a packed CenturyLink Field will generate.
“I have never been a believer in the big game,” the Timbers’ rookie helmsman flatly stated. “Every game is a big game. Points are points and you need them to climb the table.
“There are some external factors in terms of a bit of buzz to it. But try to approach each game in a business matter. Each game is an opportunity to move forward.”
Schmid differed. “I think it’s highly instrumental for the continued growth of the sport,” the MLS veteran said. “It just shows that there’s enough interest in this country to set a record with two American teams playing each other. We don’t have Man United as the opponent, we don’t have an international, it’s not Chelsea against Real Madrid in the Guinness International Cup.
“These are two teams in MLS that are playing against each other, and so that makes a huge statement that the league is on a good path and continuing to move in the right direction.”
Regarding his impressive turnaround of the Timbers, Porter emphasized the team concept.
“In order to go above [expectations] you have to have some, and going into this season we really haven’t had that many,” the College Cup-winning University of Akron helmsman said. “You have to build this club to set high expectations. We don’t have a Clint Dempsey on our roster. We have to do it with the way we play the team.”
Schmid, also a College Cup winner at UCLA, bristled at Porter’s Dempseymania jab.
“I think that’s semantics, to be very honest with you,” he challenged. “Is Diego Valeri not an important player? Did he not cost a couple of million to get his transfer fee done, so he’s not a valuable player? I don’t think so. Obviously Caleb is pushing the team concept, I think every coach pushes the team concept, we feel we’re a team as well. And within that team you have individual players.
“They have a Diego Valeri, a Ryan Johnson who’s got nine goals [actually eight] up front for them, who’s playing for the Jamaican national team, Will Johnson who’s been a very important midfielder for them. So they have individuals as well. So it isn’t like it’s the Portland team against the Seattle collection of individuals, it’s Seattle’s team against Portland’s team and it’s Seattle’s individuals against Portland’s individuals.”
And Schmid emphasized that the aforementioned Valeri is a heck of a player.
“Diego’s done very well. I think he’s a player who has shown an interest in wanting to come to MLS and (it) is a place that he wanted to come and play and he wanted to do his best,” said Schmid. “He’s been very motivated.
“The way Portland plays, where they play a 4-2-3-1 and he can play underneath a striker with two defensive midfielders behind him, allows him to maximize his abilities in terms of his passing. He’s able to find that space in front of the back four. He doesn’t have to be burdened with a lot of defensive work, so he can concentrate on just being in good spaces when they win the ball. He’s shown himself to be a very good passer and has good size as well and has shown an ability to finish, so he’s been a pretty complete package for them.”
Portland, however, won’t have holding midfielder Diego Chará, ineligible through yellow card accumulation.
“We are not a team that gets a lot of yellows [35, sixth-fewest],” said Porter. To be 24 matches in and only have him at four is really good. We are not a team that that tries to not get reckless and to be emotionally involved that we make poor choices.”
Still, said Schmid, “Caleb has options. I don’t know what the health of Wïll Johnson is. If Will Johnson comes back into the team, Jack Jewsbury is possibly another one, if he’s able to come back into the team as well, they can always move Rodney Wallace inside, he’s played inside midfield before too. They have [Khalif] Alhassan who can also play inside.”
Integrating Dempsey into Seattle’s play is more about match fitness.
“The only real challenge with Clint is simply because he was at the beginning of a preseason with Tottenham when he came to us, so between everything’s that’s been going on he’s simply not had a full preseason,” said Schmid. “His game fits into our team. He’s a good player, he’s a good passer, he’s good at holding the ball, he knows how to bring other people into the game.
“The integration simply is in him getting his fitness level up. In the first game in Toronto when he came off the bench he was probably 70 percent there. He was probably about 75 percent in Houston, he’s right about 85 percent now, getting to 90.”
He’ll need to hit full fitness soon, as the Timbers despite several draws have had their best MLS season to date.
“[I've] been pleased with the consistency,” said Porter, a top candidate for Coach of the Year. “In the RSL match we left points on the table [tied 3-3 on an added time equalizer Wednesday]. But to come back being down 2-1 and get the lead was good.
“This team has been great with controlling matches. Getting draws and three points. But we have still gotten a few more draws then we would have liked at this point but at the same time last season those draws were loses for the us. Now it is crunch time, to be sitting where we are in the standings with 39 points and ten matches left.
“Each game is an opportunity to move forward. Get points and move up the table and get us further up our goal of being the first modern-era Timbers team to make it to the MLS Playoffs.”