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Sounders gearing up for heaviest stretch of season

Jeff Parke is one of the Sounders who will likely play heavy minutes in the coming matches. His attitude is that you play to win every match.
Jeff Parke is one of the Sounders who will likely play heavy minutes in the coming matches. His attitude is that you play to win every match.

With six days between CONCACAF Champions League matches this week, this qualifies as the longest break the Sounders will have between now and Oct. 2. If the Sounders make the U.S. Open Cup finals and with Friendly C apparently being scheduled for Oct. 12, this will qualify as the longest break between games for the rest of the season.

Wednesday's CCL home match against Mexican power Monterrey (more than 17,000 tickets have been sold, by the way), will mark the start of the heaviest stretch of the season. Between then and Oct. 2, the Sounders will play 11 competitive matches and travel more than 20,000 miles in the process. Included in that stretch will be a two-week road trip that will take the team from Seattle to Costa Rica to Columbus to Monterrey to Chicago and span about 10,000 miles on its own.

"You don’t want to think about it," Sounders centerback Jeff Parke said. "If you think about the miles and everything, it can wear you down mentally.

"It’s going to be physically draining, but that’s part of the sport. If you want to win and want to do well in our country, that’s the way you have to do it."

Parke admitted that the travel, more than the playing, can be a real slog for the players. He also seemed to have an appreciation for what the team is trying to do by taking three competitions as seriously as they are. More importantly, he said, is that as long as the team is playing these games, it's in everyone's interest to play well. He expressed obvious frustration with Thursday's result.

"I look at is I want to win every game I play," he said. "I don’t care what we have to do, if it’s ugly, if it’s pretty. If it’s a last-minute gaol, a first-minute goal, I don’t care how it happens.

"I don’t like going down there and losing, especially travelling all that way and sitting in a country and hotel that’s not the best of places and coming out with a loss is frustrating. Every game is big, whatever tournament, whatever game, even if it’s a scrimagge against an international team, it’s not something that should be taken lightly."

The loss to Marathon marked the first non-MLS setback for the Sounders in their MLS history. They entered that match having never lost in 10 matches across U.S. Open Cup and CCL play. It was also their first loss in any competitive match since falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy on July 4, an unbeaten streak that lasted nine matches.

In a previous conversation, General Manager Adrian Hanauer had half-jokingly admitted that the Sounders have had a relatively easy time playing up the importance of these matches since they kept winning them. Despite the loss, little seems to have changed in regards to the organization's attitude.

"All the competitions are important and we want to do well in each of them," said coach Sigi Schmid, whose team will play three home matches between Wednesday and Sept. 1 in three separate competitions. "Winning your home games in the champions league is important.

"We still need to get points to move on to the playoffs (in MLS). Chicago is a direct competitor so this is a six-point game. ... Chicago is one of the teams that if they won out their games they could pass us. But if we can walk away with a victory on Saturday then we can put them into that same position where even if they win out, they can't pass us.

"And then we are in the semifinals of a competition we won last year and we want to defend our title."

Figuring out how to balance the playing time of starters will be one thing for this upcoming three-match, eight-day stretch. Calculating how to do that over 11 matches in 36 days is an even more daunting task. Schmid says that whatever has to be done will be done so with winning every game in mind.

"Our approach is each game we want to put out best team," he said. "Sometimes that means we need to rest Player X and play Player Y, but it's not ever going to be a situation where we put out these guys because this is a weaker opponent. We want to win every game we play.

"My feeling has always been as a coach, and maybe in life, maybe it came down from my father to me, it’s just you deal with what you can deal with and you change what you can change. I can’t change the distance between Seattle and San Jose, Costa Rica or Columbus or anything like that. It’s something we have to deal with. We travel more than any other team within our league already and being in that competition of the Champions League where all the other teams are going to be south of the border we are going to travel even more. ... At the end of the day, we can’t do anything to change it so why worry about it? Let’s just get on with it."

Rest of season schedule

Aug. 25: vs. Monterrey (CCL)
Aug. 28: vs. Chicago
Sept. 1: vs. Chivas USA (USOC)
Sept. 4: at New England
Sept. 9: vs. Salt Lake
Sept. 14: at Saprissa (CCL)
Sept. 18: at Columbus
Sept. 22: at Monterrey (CCL)
Sept. 25: at Chicago
Sept. 29: vs. Marathon (CCL)
Oct. 2: vs. Toronto
Oct. 5-6: potential date for USOC final
Oct. 9: at Kansas City
Oct. 12: Chivas de Guadalajara (unconfirmed Friendly C)
Oct. 15: vs. Chivas USA
Oct. 19: vs. Saprissa (CCL)
Oct. 23: at Houston (end of MLS regular season)

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