Tonight's MLS Reserve League match between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC is a chance for fans to see high level soccer at Starfire Sports with just a suggested donation, a chance for Eddie Johnson to show what he can do, a chance for Assistant Coach Ezra Hendrickson to continue developing talents while winning and a chance for the greatest rivalry in American soccer to resume.
After posting an impressive 8-1-1 record in Reserves play last year, some may be watching this game with the eye on a very minor trophy. Coach Hendrickson says that success in this league is a bit different.
Success, as far as the Reserve League goes, is not necessarily measured by your win/loss record, but are you getting guys graduated to the first team.
Players Sounders fans haven't seen much yet will be playing. That stretches from from former United States national teamer Johnson through regular starter Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to frequent man in the 18 Alex Caskey and even young striker Cordell Cato. Seattle's lineup will be a mix between starters, reservists and even a couple Academy players tonight. The Timbers though are loaded with injuries to their standard squad and lack some depth right now.
It is also a rare Sounders game when Sigi Schmid gets to not-quite-coach. He helps set the lineup and basic tactics, but it is Hendrickson that makes pregame, halftime and in-game decisions. This year's Reserve schedule is more complex and he was unable to watch the game against the Whitecaps, but he will go out of his way to see the next two road games.
I’m definitely there to observe. The Vancouver game in Vancouver was the first reserve game I’ve missed. I always want to see the reserve games. We’ve got two in L.A. after this and I’m flying down for both of them. It’s always important for me to watch them play. I let [Assistant Coach] Ezra [Hendrickson] coach it. I have to admit that I do go down right before halftime and give him what some of my thoughts are. I don’t interfere in the pregame talk, I don’t interfere in the halftime talk, I let him take care of that. I will, obviously, talk to guys individually after the match.
Both coaches mention that any match against Portland carries raised stakes. They know that a larger crowd will be present and the visitors will be taking the 7 PM game seriously. Hendickson says;
Even though it's a Reserve game, it's Portland. They're going to come ready to play. They always want to beat us, so we have to match that mentality. It might be a physical battle ... We have some tactics and some things we want to try against them based on how we know they play, but at the end of the day in a game against Portland we know it's going to be a battle. They are going to fight and we need to match the effort that they put forward.
Two players that will get first long looks in Rave Green are Caskey and Cato. Schmid notes that this will be a first look for many fans. Those fans will then know why Caskey has been in the 18 since the last Reserve match.
It’s an opportunity for them to see Cordell Cato, who we think can get 45 minutes, as well, in the second half for Eddie. I think if his ankle is behind him a little bit now, he’s an exciting player to watch. It’s an opportunity for people to see [Alex] Caskey, to see why we’ve been high on him, because of what he did in the reserve game in Vancouver.
Last Wednesday Caskey told Sounder at Heart that he wasn't yet looking to the Reserve match, but that it was part of his approach for his first season in MLS.
It's just one step at a time. Especially being my first year, it's only three games in. I've made the 18 a couple times and now just need to keep getting better and better. Hope to get the coaches to trust me more and go from there.
When Cordell Cato was asked about an impressive long range strike in practice Monday and how that fits into his speed based game he gave a little smile. His answer should intrigue fans.
My game is a lot more than speed, as people will see. The fans they're going to see that and it's good because as much as the fans know that's what the other teams are limited to know.
Seattle is a team that used the Reserve League to great effect last year. Not only did they win, but several players took their success their and built it into minutes with the First Team in 2011 or 2012. As the first home game of the 2012 season this is your opportunity to see them live for a very low price (free, suggested donation to Sounders charity partners). It is also your opportunity to see Portland, Hendrickson probably echoes the thoughts of every Sounder.
Even though it's a Reserve game, it's Portland. They're going to come ready to play. They always want to beat us, so we have to match that mentality.
It's also Starfire - Seattle's fortress. Ezra knows that has an appeal as well.
We didn't lose a game here last year, so let's not start that this year.
Sounder at Heart will be liveblogging from the pressbox tonight.