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Conference Call with Seattle Sounders Head Coach Sigi Schmid and Chicago Fire Interim Head Coach Frank Klopas

Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid and Chicago Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas discussed the 2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final in a teleconference call one day ahead of the championship.

Seattle Sounders Head Coach SIGI SCHMID

Opening comments:
“Congratulations to Chicago for being here in the final as well—they have played excellent soccer as of late. We’re looking forward to the final. It’s obviously a competition that we as the Sounders organization take very seriously. We’re excited about the fact that we’ll be playing in our third final in three years, and we’re looking forward to a great atmosphere and a packed house, and I think Frank has to have a conversation with his boss, his technical director, who I think is also named Frank, and get that ‘interim’ removed from his title.”

On what kind of lineup he will present tomorrow:
“Obviously for us, we’ve had to juggle our lineup for the last two months, basically, because of all the competitions we’re in and all the games we’ve been playing. We continue to look at our lineup as we go into each game as to who’s ready. Some guys recover better than others, some guys take a little longer to recover, so we’ve got to make certain decisions there. There were certain guys that we didn’t play in the game in New England and rested, like Ozzie Alonso and [Brad] Evans, who probably could have played, so those guys will be in the lineup. But the rest of it, we’re still evaluating. I talked to my team today, and they know that our lineup depends a little bit on how some guys report back tomorrow, based upon how they did at training today. So we’re going to field as close to a first team, but our real objective is that we’re always going to field the best team available for each game we play.”

On why he and the Seattle Sounders organization place such significance on the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition:
“I’m a big fan of history and tradition and this is a competition that has history and tradition within U.S. Soccer. It’s a competition that I, myself, have been able to play in years and years ago. I know my friends in L.A. who played for a club there called Maccabi AC who ended up winning, like, five U.S. Open Cups give me stick because they say, ‘You’re still not close to us.’ There’s a lot of history in that tradition and I think it’s important to maintain the history. Certainly the FA Cup in England is a standard-bearer and not many countries’ cup competition can compare to that. It’s something that I think we can continue to grow. I think it’s something that provides that link to soccer throughout the history of United States’ Soccer and I would hate to see us throw that away.”

On how winning consecutive Open Cup championships helped to establish the Seattle Sounders as an MLS team and whether that has changed now that the team has other tournaments to focus on:
“I think as an expansion team, as a young club in MLS, winning the first two Open Cups that we did were tremendous in terms of our club’s recognition and in terms of our fans and in terms of the confidence of our team and our players, to realize that they can win a competition and that they can get through it. Our philosophy is, even though there are ‘other fish to fry,’ if you’re not going to try and win it, let’s not enter it. So whatever we enter we’re going to try to win. We have goals as it relates to the MLS playoffs and we have goals as it relates to CONCACAF as well, but we also have goals as it relates to the U.S. Open Cup. The Open Cup is what has given us entré into the Champions League, that’s further helped us establish our club in the minds of, not only the United States but in the minds of the CONCACAF region. Winning these two Open Cups has been very important for the face of the club, for the recognition of our club and for the confidence of the players.”

On where in the calendar he would like to see the U.S. Open Cup played, ideally:
“For me, that’s a hard one. I’ve been through different scenarios. I’ve been through the scenario where they tried to position it a week after MLS Cup and one year we lost in the final at Columbus, we played the MLS final on a Sunday in New England and we had to play the Open Cup final on a Thursday in Columbus. It was trying to get guys, you know, sober, for the game was sometimes difficult. Where do you put it? Where do you place it? It would be great if our schedule allowed us where it would be a little bit like the Super Bowl, if there was two weeks between MLS Cup and the last playoff game before it, maybe you could put it into that week. I don’t know. It’s not a perfect answer. We’ve opened up some dates now for international fixture dates, but you don’t want to put it on that date because a team playing in the final might have a team that’s a key member of the national team. It’s a difficult one. If it grows enough, maybe it can stand alone, like I said, towards the end of the season. It’s a difficult question.”

Chicago Fire Interim Head Coach FRANK KLOPAS
Opening words:
“From my standpoint, first also I want to congratulate Seattle for getting to the final, their third final in a row. For us, obviously, we’re looking forward to the match. This has been a goal that we have set for ourselves from the beginning as a tournament that we want to be in the final, to give us an opportunity to win it. Also, it’s a tournament that our organization, the Fire, take very seriously. We’ve been an MLS team that has won it more than any other with four times, so we are very much looking forward to playing against a very good team, in an atmosphere that is second to none, other than Chicago I would say, for me. The players are looking forward to the match, I’m looking forward to the match. The atmosphere is going to be fantastic. We have a big contingent of supporters from Chicago, Section 8 fans, our supporter groups are going to be there. I know it’s going to be very difficult to hear them, but I know we’re going to see them, and I thank them for making the trip. We’re just very excited to have the opportunity to be in this final.”

How team has evolved since Klopas took over:
“I think any time you go through a period where you bring in a lot of players and changes in the team, it takes some time for those players to jell together and find their form and develop some kind of understanding. I knew that we had a good group from the beginning and it was going to take time. Obviously some late additions have also helped our team: players like Pavel Pardo, who’s brought a lot of experience to the team, and a guy like [Sebastian] Grazzini. We’ve changed our lineup a little bit in the final leg, and there’s a good understanding of how we want to play, and that’s taken some time. We are a different team, but also Seattle is an excellent team. They have one of the best coaches, for me; I know Sigi from way back. He’s done a tremendous job. Even though we’re different, we know that we’re playing against an excellent side, and we have to be at our best tomorrow night. We are different, it’s taken some time, so I am kind of happy the way we are at the moment, and we just have to keep going.”

On why the Fire and other MLS teams have taken the Open cup more seriously:
“I think everyone takes the Open Cup serious from the beginning. I think there are moments where you—depending on the schedule of games early on in the season, some teams travel for different tournaments that they play—you have to juggle lineups. It’s just very hard with the amount of travel some teams do and the amount of games early on, but it’s very hard not to put the same groups out there all the time. I think teams do take it serious, and I think that for us, I can’t speak for other teams, but for our organization, this has been from the beginning, when we get together and we set goals, the U.S. Open Cup is at the top of that list. We say, “This is a tournament that we want to try to win every year.” Obviously throughout the year you make changes in the lineup, and sometimes in games like that, different players have to step up and play a part in helping you win those games. We’ve been fortunate and thankful that in situations that have happened this year for us, we’ve had the guys step up and help us win and put us in this position.”

On what kind of lineup he will present tomorrow:
“For me, I’d like to echo some of the same words that Sigi had. We haven’t had the schedule that Seattle has had, but obviously now we’ve made a strong push with every game first to focus on the next game, never looking ahead, and trying to win that, and put ourselves, more than anything, in a position where we’re trying to make the playoffs. We’ve had a little bit of a stretch now before coming here to Seattle with the games in Salt Lake and Houston, and then we take one game at a time. We tried to put the best lineup out there for Salt Lake, and we did the same for Houston, knowing that some guys, like Sigi said, recover a little different than others. Some guys get a little bit banged up. But always every game, you try to put the best lineup out there that will give you the best chance to win. And for this one, we’re valuing how our guys feel, but it’s going to be the best group that I have out there to try to give us the chance to win the game.”

On what he thinks have been the reasons for the Seattle Sounders’ success this season:

“I think there are many main reasons and one of the top ones is the man that is doing this press conference with me, Sigi Schmid. I think they have one of the top coaches in this league and I think he’s done a great job of putting a fantastic team together, a team that, every year is going to compete not only for a championship but for the U.S. Open Cup. He’s been a main reason. And I think they’ve done a great job with recruiting, bringing players in and all that. I think he’s been a main reason but there are a lot of little things that go into that. I think they’ve done a very good job as an organization as a whole.”

On winning the U.S. Open Cup as a player and how he translates that to his players as a coach:

“It was different times. At that moment, being an expansion team in 1998 and winning the MLS Cup and doing the double at home and finishing a season like that, for me the most important thing was winning but scoring the winning goal was just a memory that, moments like that will be remembered forever. You can share with that group, whether you see the guys or you never speak to them again, that one year or that special moment will link us together forever. It’s a different feeling when you’re a coach. It’s a little bit different. Obviously, if we were to win this, I think the feeling would be different but if we were to win this, it’s different but at this moment it would probably be better to be able to do it also from this side because I know what these players go through every day, their commitment, and the focus and I think it would be a great feeling to be on this side. It would be a better moment than doing it as a player. It’s hard to say. I know it would be different but for me, I would enjoy it more.”

On where in the calendar he would like to see the U.S. Open Cup played, ideally:

“That is a difficult one. You would like to think that maybe if this game was pushed back an extra day or so where everyone could have an extra day of rest in between, but I played it as a player after the MLS Cup and I have to agree with Sigi, we needed a couple days to recover from the celebration of winning the MLS Cup first and then we had to focus and still play in the Open Cup final. There’s no perfect day but I think if they were to find a date where the teams would have a little bit more rest, I think, would be ideal.”

On how Sebastian Grazzini is doing and whether he will be available for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final:

“He’s been training and he came on the trip with us to Houston with the team and he’s been pushing himself every day in training and we’re going to do a little bit more with tonight’s session and evaluate how he feels. We’ll check tomorrow morning. If he’s okay, I think he’ll be available on the 18-man roster but we just have to see how he reacts to today’s session. We pushed him yesterday a little bit with our fitness coach, a little bit more today and we just have to see because with a hamstring you never know until you actually go out there and do some kind of fitness test and some sprinting and stuff like that and see how he feels afterwards.”

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