Emerald City hopes to sparkle as host

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comJune 11, 2013 

SEATTLE — The U.S. men’s national soccer team will meet Panama in a World Cup qualifying match Tuesday night at CenturyLink Field.

On the eve of the game, both of these issues shared the spotlight: the game’s meaning to each nation’s hopes of advancing to Brazil next year, and Seattle’s role in hosting a World Cup qualifier after a 37-year absence.

“It’s fantastic for the city of Seattle,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think the Northwest deserves World Cup qualifiers because (of) the support that the Sounder fans have given to Sounders. … It’s just a tribute to the fans.”

However, that feel-good story was interrupted by a couple of controversies this week.

Some national media have pointed out that advance ticket sales of about 38,000 are well below the 53,679 the Sounders drew for Saturday’s Major League Soccer match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Meanwhile, national team players gave CenturyLink Field’s pitch mixed assessments bottoming out at “far from ideal.”

That one came from midfielder Michael Bradley on Monday before Team USA’s final practice on the temporary grass field installed last week over the FieldTurf usually used by the Sounders and Seahawks.

“You’d like to be playing on a field where it’s cut real short, and you’re able to get some water on the field before the game, and that creates a fast, wet surface that really is conducive to how we want to play,” Bradley said.

“Seattle certainly deserves a game, but I think the field unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.”

At a news conference earlier in the day, U.S. team captain Clint Dempsey gave a more positive take.

“I would say the field is good,” he said. “I’d rather play on real grass over turf than to play on turf. … Both teams will be able to play good soccer, and it should make for a good game.”

This will be the first World Cup qualifier in Seattle since Oct. 20, 1976, when the U.S. beat Canada.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said the national team doesn’t visit more often because of the time and distance needed for some U.S. players to leave their club teams in Europe, travel across the Atlantic Ocean and then continue on to a distant corner of the country.

He said U.S. Soccer finally chose to return because of Seattle’s reputation as the MLS attendance leader. Sounders teammates Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson are expected to play for the U.S. team Tuesday night.

“I’m good friends with Eddie Johnson, and he always tells me about what it’s like playing here in front of these fans,” Dempsey said. “It’s an atmosphere that’s comparable to playing in Europe.”

This match marks the midpoint of the 10-game qualifying tournament for both teams. Panama is fourth in the six-nation field at 1-0-3, while the United States is tied for first at 2-1-1 and feeling pretty good about itself after its 2-1 win at Jamaica last week.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Klinsmann said. “We badly want three points in this game and next week (vs. Honduras) in Salt Lake. Those are home games, and they’re must-wins. It was nice coming back from Jamaica with the three points. … Now all that matters is focusing on Panama, which is a really good team.”

ADDED TIME

The Sounders announced they loaned top draft pick Eriq Zavaleta to the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions until June 23. … Six players from each MLS team were placed on the league’s All-Star ballot. The selected Sounders are goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, defenders Djimi Traore and DeAndre Yedlin, midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Mauro Rosales, and forward Johnson. Fans may vote at mlssoccer.com.

MEN’S WORLD CUP QUALIFIER

PANAMA (1-0-3, 6 points) AT UNITED STATES (2-1-1, 7 points)

WHEN: 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field. TV: ESPN.

NOTES: This game marks the halfway point in both teams’ 10-match World Cup qualification round. Through four matches, Panama has scored five goals and allowed three; the U.S. has scored four and allowed three. … The U.S. has a 23-match home unbeaten streak (21-0-2) in qualification matches dating to 2001. … Team USA is 8-1-2 all time against Panama and 7-1-1 at home. … The U.S. team is 6-2-1 all time in Seattle, including five consecutive wins. … Panama will be without striker Blas Perez (gastroenteritis). The U.S. will be without Jermaine Jones (concussion) and Graham Zusi (yellow card accumulation). … Sounders teammates Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans are on the U.S. roster. … Seating capacity will be capped at 42,000 because of the Mariners-Astros game at Safeco Field. Tickets remain available.

QUOTABLE: “They’re a difficult team to break down defensively because they stay compact. They work really hard for each other. They’re physical, but at the same time, they have players who can score goals.” — U.S. captain Clint Dempsey on Panama.

NEXT: Team USA continues World Cup qualification June 18, meeting Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

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