Sounders close doors at Qwest Field ahead of first Major League Soccer season
By Ian Walker
Don't let the term friendly fool you. Sure, it will be played in a low-key setting, but this weekend's matchup between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest Field is closed to the public for a reason.
The game pits the defending United Soccer Leagues First Division champions against Major League Soccer's newest team, and there's more than bragging rights on the line. Seattle has a lot to lose with a loss to the Whitecaps, who would love nothing more than to prove their worth alongside the big boys in North American soccer's premier loop.
"We're taking it seriously for a number of reasons, the Whitecaps are a very good team and we don't want to be embarrassed," said Brian Schmetzer, the Sounders' top assistant to head coach Sigi Schmid. "Our first MLS game is in less than a month and we need to prepare for that."
The new-look Whitecaps depart today in preparation for the game, the team's first real test of the season.
Vancouver has played the Whitecaps Residency team in a couple of scrimmages and most recently defeated the Trinity Western University Spartans 3-1 in last Friday's friendly at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex West.
Teitur Thordarson's squad has been training together for a month, but the game will be a true test of the talent he has to work with this season.
"We don't go down there to experiment, we go down to get a good result and find out where we are standing with the new people we have," said Thordarson, who will be taking 19-players on the trip. "One of our other goals is to see how the new guys fit in, of course."
Seattle is 3-1 in exhibition play, but Sunday will mark its first game at home. It was at the Sounders' insistence that the game be closed to the public, for obvious reasons. The MLS club opens its season at Qwest Field on March 19 against the New York Red Bulls and there's no advantage to lifting the curtain early.
Never mind what a poor result could do to the growing excitement in the Emerald City.
"If it was a paid exhibition there would be a lot more at stake," said Schmetzer, who described his club as good offensively but a work in progress defensively. "If we win it would be great, but it's not the end of the world if we don't."
In a somewhat related development, there was more good news for the Whitecaps' chances of bringing a MLS team to Vancouver. Miami FC's expansion bid, considered one of the strongest of the five remaining clubs, is in jeopardy after its ownership group announced they are thinking twice about bringing a team to Florida for the 2011 season. The bid is a joint-partnership with Bolivian-American tech magnate Marcelo Claure and Barcelona FC. The tanking economy is the reason for the change of heart.
"We want to enter the American league, but not at the cost of financial risk," Barça director general Joan Olive told Spanish daily Sport on Friday. "The chances of us not joining are higher than when we announced our interest."
MLS commissioner Don Garber in is Barcelona and met with Olive on Friday. MLS is expected to make its decision on the two successful expansion teams next month. The price tag on a team is $40 million US and Miami's announcement could very well be a strategic one in an attempt to negotiate down the fee. Other cities in the mix include the Whitecaps, St. Louis, Ottawa and Portland, Ore.
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