One of the undercurrent or sub-plots of tonight’s Cascadia derby is the battle between the two coaches.
The two men could not be more different. Caleb Porter is calm and analytical. He barely smiles. Sigi Schmid wears his emotions on his sleeves, and sometimes cries.
Caleb Porter has had a joy of a season with plaudits raining on him like the Portland rain rains on him. Sigi Schmid has had to endure criticism from fans after some poor results, although he actually won a game more in league play than Porter and finished only five points behind,
Sigi Schmid has an experience at this heightened level of tension longer than the I-5 corridor. The win over Colorado was his 41st play-off game and he has won 23 of those, drawn six and lost twelve.
Eleven of those are with the Sounders in the last five years where he has won four and lost five, (taking the extra time defeat in Houston as a loss.) It has to be also said that two of those five wins were in vain, narrowly winning home legs after catastrophic away defeats.
Caleb Porter is so far outside any comfort level he has ever experienced that a guide book and nose bleed pills would be in any normal coach’s rucksack. Likewise his team and franchise has zero experience of play-offs at this level, although a few players, notably former RSL man Will Johnson, keeper Donovan Ricketts and ex-Kansas player Jack Jewsbury, have seen it elsewhere,
Play-off games, in football as in other American sports, bring with them a whole new dynamic in terms of pressure.
After his 0-5 win over Chivas, which concluded Portland’s regular season, Porter was asked whether his side was prepared for the heightened level of intensity:
“It’s obviously a cup format and games become, I think, more of a chess match, But we’ve kind of been approaching it that way recently ourselves. We’ve been preparing for that. I’ve tried to put out a team that’s balanced and organized and disciplined. We downshifted just a little bit in terms of how many numbers we’re getting forward earlier in the year.
At times in other games, you can be a bit more adventurous. You can take some more risks and gamble, but when you get in the play-offs, you know you can’t gamble so much that you’re going to be opened up. So really I feel like we’ve put a team out, personnel-wise, system-wise, gameplan-wise, that’s very similar to how we’re going to play in the play-offs, so I think we’re ready.”
Whether Porter’s attempt to replicate play-odd type intensity in the regular season has worked, we will only know tonight.
Sounders talisman Brad Evans has no doubt about his team’s readiness.
After Wednesday’s win over Colorado, he stressed his belief that their experiences of the last four years should stand them in good stead when fatigue becomes an issue against a fresher opponent
“We’ve done this before. When it is a playoff game you try and throw everything out the window. Is it going to be perfect? No, but at the same time it is mental at this point. Coming off a win you always feel a little bit better.
It is easier to wake up the next morning and get back on the grind. We will probably have a good day tomorrow with it being Halloween and then we will settle in and start focusing on the next game.”
Sounders will be missing goalkeeper Mike Gspurning after his Colorado red card. Lamar Neagle and Eddie Johnson took a yellow and will miss the second leg if they pick up another from referee Baldomero Toledo. Josh Ford is the back up keeper should Hahnemann have any injury.
Right back DeAndre Yedlin left the field at half time against Colorado with an ankle issue. Should he be unavailable, Schmid ask Zach Scott to fill in, or withdraw US international right back Brad Evans and add another midfielder.
“Brad Evans can play there. Zach Scott came in and played the last few minutes there. He can play there as well. Different people can play there,” Schmid told the club website. “Adam Moffat can play there, too.”
Portland have as healthy a squad as they could hope with Ryan Johnson, Frederic Piquionne and Jose Valencia seeking the forward starting slot. The only other remote doubt is whether Kalif Alhassan will replace Rodney Wallace at left wing, but it is almost certain Wallace will get the nod, notwithstanding his winning goal when the sides last met.
Let the chess match begin.