Eight months ago, EFW dipped a toe into the MLS for the first time by running a Q&A with the editor of Prost Amerika - the influential website attached to the Seattle Sounders. What followed took me a little bit by surprise. Comments on that article still flood into EFW HQ to this day as fans of both the Sounders and their rivals Portland Timbers have a "friendly" little pop at each other. Where would football be without healthy rivalry eh!?
Initially, I regarded "soccerball" - as some Brits occasionally call it - as a bit of a joke. I'll freely admit that the only reason I began writing about it was to try and get a generous fatcat chairman of one of the clubs onside. The reason? A shameless wish that he'd send EFW 2 x flight tickets to come over and cover a matchday experience (actually, we're still holding out for that, just think of the publicity - Ed). The feedback on the Sounders v Timbers shenanigans though convinced us that this was a game that shouldn't be missed. As such, we've genuinely pencilled it into our 2011 schedule.
Arguably the best signing the Sounders made in pre-season was our very own Arlo White from the BBC. White, who was a stable on the Radio Five Live football coverage has become the new "voice of the Sounders". It's a long way from his beloved Leicester City but he seems to have seattled (sic) in quite nicely thankyou very much. Good luck Arlo lad!
With the MLS season kicking off this week, it seemed as good a time as any to revisit the Sounders camp and find out exactly what's been occurring up there in the NorthWest of USA, USA, USA. So, we dialled up the good people at Prost Amerika again to find out how that rivalry with the Timbers is progressing, what on earth the CONCACAF Champions League is all about and to have a chat about *ahem* Freddie Ljungberg's dog:
It's been eight months since we last covered the Seattle Sounders on EFW, you've had a bit of success since then I gather? Absolutely. Sounders FC won the US Open Cup, the American equivalent of the FA Cup. It was a fantastic night in Washington DC. It was Sounders first success in a tournament they also entered as a minor league club, but to win a trophy in their first year as an MLS club was fantastic. The club also became the first expansion side to make the play-offs in Season 1 for over a decade, but lost to Houston over two legs. It wasn't a bad first year, but everyone here is hungry for more success.
That must have been quite a night? Hell yeah. After the game, I was given access to the dressing room and interviewed just about everybody for a Cup Final podcast. Freddie Ljungberg expressed his joy in Swedish and comedian Drew Carey and US goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller also contributed. Thanks especially to Freddie who pulled me out the way just as Jamaican international centre-half Tyrone Marshall was about to drench me in champagne. If you get close enough to them, Sounders FC can be a very close and welcoming club. After the game and filing a massive match report, I met some of the traveling fans in the bar. Many of them are guys I stood on the terrace with in the old days. They were doing the stuff that European fans take for granted on 3000 mile trips, kipping on airport floors, finding beer at 3 in the morning, lending and borrowing believable excuses for missing work the next day. Quite a night.
Funny thing was, the night before the match I was given access to the players in the team hotels. Long time club servant Roger Levesque wasn't one of those scheduled for interview but he came up and talked to me anyway as he always does. We were doubtful we could use it, as we didn't think he would play, but we ran the story anyway. Roger not only played, he scored the second goal.
Sounders Fredy Montero & Union's Stefan Miglioranzi jump for joy at the seasons opener in Seattle this week.
What's this CONCACAF Champions League all about then? It's the North and Central American equivalent of the Champions League. Sounders cup victory grants them a place in the pre-qualifiers. Sadly, MLS sides do not always treat it with the respect it deserves, and it is clearly not as prestigious as the UEFA equivalent. The problem MLS clubs have is the roster size stipulation. Clubs are only (currently) allowed 24 players on their roster and this makes putting out strong squads for every game a juggling act. Many MLS clubs de-prioritise the CONCACAF cup and focus on MLS instead. I think Sounders might be different though, because I suspect a deep seated ambition to play on the global stage and that means being a hit in CONCACAF. They have to play a two-legged qualifier first before the group stage. That happens last week of July, so stay tuned.
I find it incredible that Jack Warner is still in charge of CONCACAF after a list of (reported) misdemeanors as long as your arm don't you? Is he still doing Dixon of Dock Green?
The fans quite like the idea of a midweek away trip to Mexico to play Monterrey then? 99% of those who expressed a preference said 'does Barbados have a team?'
Being in the CONCACAF Champions League can only further raise your profile surely? The honeymoon seems never ending at the moment. It will definitely raise the profile if Sounders win it. Being hammered by Joe Public (yes that is the real name of a team) won't really, I wouldn't agree quite about the honey moon. The fans on the chat boards are being a little more critical than last season, and the club can't expect the journalistic silence of last year when they make mistakes. There was a general but unspoken agreement to cut them a break in year one if they did so. If they repeat them however, I think it may be more public this year. It is funny because it's true. I give you Joe Public FC - Ed).
Personally, I can't wait until the 2011 MLS season when the Sounders can renew their rivalry with the Portland Timbers on the pitch. Is that (rivalry) still as intense as ever? I'm really looking forward to the arrival of both Portland and Vancouver. Both are great clubs with great and committed fans. The Timbers Army will bring something fresh and energetic to MLS, and have done a wonderful job keeping football at the core of life in their city. Vancouver Whitecaps have been adding some serious experience to their Front Office staff and already have a youth set up, called the Residency Scheme which is the envy of many. Prost Amerika hopes to increase its coverage of both clubs in the run up to their MLS entry. I' m already looking for people in both cities to help with match day coverage. I'd love to have match reporter and cameraman there if anybody's interested.
The rivalry isn't like the Swansea/Cardiff or Portsmouth/Southampton thing. Those four cities have economic and political differences that go back centuries. There's a few on message boards who like to make out the rivalry is World War 3 but the numbers who want to mimic Green Street are low, but of course loud. (They'll be arriving shortly on the comments section of this interview to proclaim the severity of their hatred but it isn't like that for 99% of us). Besides, aren't we all tough as old boots armed with a keyboard? It should be noted that the respective largest fan groups of Portland and Seattle played a friendly on March 28th, and communicate frequently on matters of mutual interest. A prominent Timbers Army leader was happy to guest on the Radio Sounders Show. If I had to compare it to any English rivalry, I'd say the Portland v Seattle rivalry is not unlike East Anglia in its intensity. Of course, Seattle having Vancouver as a second rival waters that down slightly. The rivalry with Vancouver is more amiable than the one with Portland, but Canadians are just plain friendly at the worst of times. The Whitecaps are really hard to dislike as are Canadians in general.
It is a shame you no longer contest in the Cascadia Cup. Was that as good as it sounds with the Sounders-Timbers-Whitecaps round robin of matches? The dream was always to have it while playing at the top level. The two year gap without it will be worth it to fulfill that dream. Nonetheless, my friends in the Front Office at Vancouver did like to send me the occasional picture of the Cup once in a while, until they lost it to Portland - who I'm sure will send me a picture of it draped in green and yellow ribbons as soon as they see this interview.
Your MLS season kicked off this week with an opening fixture against Philadelphia Union. That was their first ever fixture wasn't it? Yes, their first competitive game ever. How often do you get to see something like that?
Another franchise team then. This seems to be the way forwards in the MLS no? In 2011, two existing clubs Portland and Vancouver enter MLS. Montreal Impact are pretty certain to be next. So the next three won't be new clubs as such, but clubs with long traditions and a social and cultural presence in their cities. After that, I suspect, there will be one further addition to take the league to 20.
News reaches this side of the pond that you've sold a wheelbarrow full of season tickets for the new season. Anticipation must be at fever pitch? The hit numbers on my website are astronomical. 32,000 season tickets have been sold and the club is capping it at that, They could probably have sold more, but that would have required opening the Upper Tier of the stadium, a move the club remains reluctant to make.
Is Freddie Ljungberg sticking around? He arrived back in late January and is committed to the club.
He also has a dog called Amadeus if you're interested? Yes, here he is and there is another photo here.
After Chelsea and Barcelona last season, do you have any more prestigious friendly matches with European opposition lined up for this season? Nothing declared as yet although respected bloggers have made it reasonably clear the club should steer away from guests with racist baggage in a progressive city like Seattle. Every fan group I've spoken to is in agreement so one would hope you could at least rule a few out. We do know there are three friendlies added to the season ticket package so fingers crossed for a big EPL side, and a Serie A side. Maybe even Lewes.
How do see the new season going? The Western Conference will be very competitive. Houston have lost two key players in Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, and LA will be without Beckham, so Sounders and Chivas USA should be able to narrow the gap, especially Sounders playing in their second year, and adding Swiss international Blaise Nkufo after the World Cup. Real Salt Lake had an average regular season but timed their run right to win the play-offs. I expect their regular season form will improve slightly too, as everyone now believes Jason Kreis to be a genius. Dallas finished the season very strongly and if Jeff Cunningham starts as he finished may surprise a few in the West.
Sounders need to extract more out of talented stars like Steve Zakuani and Nate Jaqua who are both young and should be on the upward curve. They also need to hope Osvaldo Alonso remains in stellar form. If they drop their standards any, there will be a host of challengers on their shoulders.
In the East, New York are bound to be better, especially with the inspiration of a cracking new stadium, not to mention a new coach. I expect Columbus Crew won't be worse than last year. After all, they walked the regular season (known as the Supporters Shield), despite failing to win in their first seven, in a 30 game sprint. Chicago should improve but I suspect DC United's struggles may continue. Their best close season signing is their Media Guy! Philadelphia in their first year may be more of an expansion side than Seattle were. New England will remain tough to beat but the loss of talisman and legend Steve Ralston will be felt throughout the club.
Although it would be nice to see Toronto, Kansas and San Jose improve, there are more signs of improvement at other clubs around them, and all three have lost a veteran who seemed, at least from the outside, to be inspirational including your compatriot Darren Huckerby.
Thanks to Rick Morrison/MLS Examiner for the photos.
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