SEATTLE – Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer says he doesn’t have much of a preference on who his team will play in the upcoming Western Conference Championship, but he wouldn’t mind another Cascadia matchup against the Portland Timbers.
The Sounders are coming off a tense semifinal series against Cascadia foe Vancouver, with Seattle defeating the Whitecaps 2-0 on Thursday to win the series following a scoreless draw in Leg 1. Portland and Houston are knotted 0-0 heading into Leg 2 of their West semifinal on Sunday at Providence Park (7:30 pm ET; FS1 in the US | TSN1, TVAS in Canada).
“Whoever it is, we know it’s going to be a tough series,” Schmetzer told reporters after Thursday’s victory at CenturyLink Field. “Both Houston and Portland provide different challenges. So either one is OK. It sure would be nice to have a little more I-5 rivalry, but you never know.”
Regardless of who their opponent ends up being, the Sounders can certainly breathe a little easier following Thursday’s triumph over Vancouver that saw a Clint Dempsey brace see them through to the West finals.
The series against Vancouver was hard-fought and defensive, with Dempsey’s 56th minute breakthrough and 88th minute insurance tally representing the only goals of the two-game set. With that in mind, Schmetzer said the lengthy 19-day break the Sounders have before they have to take the field again can be used as a positive – even if staying in rhythm will still be a challenge.
“I’ll give them the day off tomorrow, they can enjoy the victory, then we’ll go back to work,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll watch game film, we’ll do all our normal stuff. Obviously the international guys are going to be gone, so it will be a challenge. It’s a couple days more than what we had last year because this was a Thursday night kickoff. But we’ll adjust. We’ll make do.
“I think the guys, by the end of this next stretch of training sessions, they’ll really be sick of us [the coaches] and they’ll really be ready to play, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
For now, Seattle can kick back and watch the fireworks in what promises to be a high-intensity second leg between Houston and Portland at Providence Park, a matchup that will determine the last hurdle the Sounders will have to clear if they want a chance to defend last year’s championship.
“It has been a challenging season to say the least,” Schmetzer said. “I think we started off the season with a little bit of a hangover and some guys that maybe were still celebrating our championship. I think I, as a first-year head coach needed to learn some things.
“I think overall, the course of this season was a little bit of a learning process both for the players on the field and for myself. So, as we end here now at the tail end of the season, I think you see some of the work [the coaching staff] has done and what the team has done. The team has figured out a way to win games again.”