Sounders arrange nimble, quick travel

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMay 23, 2013 

Georgi Hristov scored a goal Tuesday in Plant City, Fla., and suddenly Grant Clark’s life grew more complicated.

Hristov’s goal was the winner that sent the Tampa Bay Rowdies past VSI Tampa Bay FC in the second round of U.S. Open Cup play. Now the Rowdies will play host to Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday in the third round.

That pairing forced the Sounders to quickly arrange travel to Florida between two MLS games in the Los Angeles area – Sunday at the Los Angeles Galaxy and June 1 at Chivas USA. The Sounders’ Reserve League team also has a match June 2 at Chivas.

That cluster of competitions demands considerable personnel juggling by Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. It also demands considerable logistical juggling by Clark, the team administration director.

“There are so many moving parts it’s unbelievable,” Clark said. “We will get everybody where they need to be. It might be a little tricky for some of them. But this one is right up there with the best of them.”

By “best,” Clark means most challenging. This is not a matter of simply hopping on the internet and clicking for a Seattle-to-Los Angles-to-Florida round trip. Because no single player is likely to participate in all four games, Schmid will have some attend only certain legs of the trip.

How many total flights could be involved? Clark is asked.

He pauses and counts aloud: “One, two, three, four, five …” finally stopping at 10. Ten flights – but not counting the bus rides.

“We’re going to have to go into Orlando instead of Tampa,” he said. “It just adds a longer bus ride on Monday, but the league’s travel agent was able to get it. I think our numbers are a little less from L.A. to Tampa. And then we’ve got guys from Seattle into Tampa. And then the same thing on the way back. So, we’ll get it all done.”

While the Rowdies have “Tampa” in their name, their home pitch is Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla. Using league resources and personal contacts, Clark was able to secure a hotel across the street from the stadium. The point, after all, is putting the team in position to play its best.

“The main thing is we want to win all four games: We want to beat the Galaxy, we want to beat the Rowdies, we want to beat Chivas twice,” he said. “And if we do all that, all this will all be worth it. That will give me the satisfaction if we get the results. But yeah, this will be interesting. And then who knows what happens next round, right?”

Actually, that news was released by U.S. Soccer later Wednesday.

If the Sounders get past the Rowdies in this single-elimination tournament, they will have hosting rights for a fourth-round match, meeting either the Portland Timbers or the Wilmington Hammerheads of USL Pro at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila on June 12.

As for Schmid’s part of the deal, he repeated his belief that the team should try to win any competition it enters, and he said he will arrange his lineups accordingly.

Adding to the degree of difficulty is the loss of forward Eddie Johnson and midfielder Brad Evans to national team duty after the Galaxy match, and the injury to reserve goalkeeper Josh Ford, meaning Nos. 1 and 2 keepers Michael Gspurning and Marcus Hahnemann will travel to each match.

“You’re trying to balance who can play a Wednesday-Saturday, who can play maybe three games that week, who better to play on a Saturday to a Sunday and get time off in between,” Schmid said. “All that we’re trying to weigh and balance as well.”

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

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