In anticipation of Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final, Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid and Chicago Fire interim coach/technical director Frank Klopas held a national teleconference with reporters.
Seattle is looking to become the first three-peat winner of the 98-year-old tournament in more than 40 years.
On the other hand, Chicago could tie the all-time record with five total Open Cups, having also won in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006.
Following the jump is the long transcript of today’s conference call:
* * *
Q: Opening statements…
Schmid: “My opening comments are just congratulations to Chicago for being here in the final, as well. They’ve played excellent soccer as of late. We’re looking forward to the final; it’s obviously a competition that we as a Sounders organization take very seriously. We’re excited about the fact that we’re playing in our third final in three years and we’re looking forward to a great atmosphere and a packed house. I think Frank has to have a conversation with his bosses — his technical director, who’s name is also Frank — and get that “interim” removed from his coaching title.” (Ed note: The joking undertones can be hard to point out in print, but Klopas is both the technical director and interim head coach)
Klopas: “(laughs) That’s good Sigi. From my standpoint, first I also want to congratulate Seattle for getting to the final — their third one in a row. For us, obviously, we’re also looking forward to the match. This has been a goal that we have set for us from the beginning of the tournament; (we wanted) to put ourselves in the final and give us an opportunity to win it. Also it’s a tournament that our organization with the Fire takes very serious. We’ve been an MLS team that’s won it more than any other — we’ve won it four times. We are very much looking forward to this match. We’re going to be playing against a very good team in an atmosphere that’s 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. Seattle’s fans are going to be fantastic and we have a big contingent of supporters from Chicago — Section 8 fans and our supporters’ 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 we thank them for making the trip. We’re just very excited to have an opportunity to be in this final.”
Q: For Frank, how has your team evolved since you took over and how different are you from what Seattle saw earlier in the season?
Klopas: “Anytime when you go through a period where you bring in players and there have been a lot of changes on the team it always takes some time for those players to gel together and find their form and develop some kind of understanding. I knew that we had a good group from the beginning and that 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 and now there’s a good understanding of how we want to play. That’s taken some time. We are a different team, but also look, 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, so even though we’re different, we know 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, but I’m happy with where we are at the moment and we have to keep going.”
Q: For Frank, why has the Fire always taken this competition seriously and are you noticing the same around the league?
Klopas: “I think everyone takes the Open Cup serious from the beginning, but I think there are moments where depending on the schedule of games early on in the season — some teams travel for different tournaments they play — you have to juggle lineups. With the amount of travel some teams do and the amount of games early on, it’s very hard to put the same group out there all the time. I think teams do take it serious. For us — I can’t speak for other teams — and for our organization, from the beginning when we get together and set goals, the U.S. Open Cup is on top of that list. We say this is a tournament that we want to try and win every year. 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 guys step up, help us win and put us in this position now.”
Q: For both coaches, what will your lineups look like?
Schmid: “Obviously for us, we’ve had to juggle the lineup for the last two months basically, because of all the competitions we’re in and all the games we’re 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 bit longer to recover, so we have to make certain decisions there. There were certainly guys obviously that we didn’t play in the game in New England and rested, like Ozzie Alonso and (Brad) Evans, who probably could’ve played, so those guys will be in the lineup. But with the rest, we’re still evaluating. I talked to my team today and they know that our lineup depends on how some guys report back tomorrow based upon how they did in training today. We’re going to field close to a first team, but our real objective is we’re always trying to field the best team available for each game we play.”
Klopas: “For me, I’d like to echo some of the same words that Sigi had. I mean we haven’t had the schedule that Seattle has had, but obviously we’ve made a strong push with every game to focus on the next game and never look ahead, and try to win that and put ourselves in a position 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. 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. I know 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. For this one, we’re evaluating how guys feel but it will be the best group that I have out there to try to give us a chance to win this game.”
Q: For Sigi, why do you think this competition is important and why do the Sounders put such significance on the tournament?
Schmid: “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 called Maccabi, who ended up winning five U.S. Open Cups, give me stick because they say, ‘You’re still not close to us.’ There’s a lot of history and tradition, and I think it’s important to maintain the history. Certainly the FA Cup in England is the standard bearer and not many countries’ cup competition can compare to that, but 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.”
Q: For Sigi, how much did two Open Cups help establish the Sounders in MLS? Has that changed now that you’ve won two in a row and perhaps have bigger trophies to go after?
Schmid: “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, in terms of our fans, 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. Even though, as you call it, there are bigger fish to fry and there are other things there, our philosophy is: if we’re not going to try and win it, let’s not enter it. So whatever we enter we’re going to try and win. We have goals as it relates to the MLS playoffs. We have goals as it relates to CONCACAF, as well. We also have goals as it relates to the U.S. Open Cup, and the Open Cup is what has given us entry to the Champions League, that’s further helped us establish our club in the minds of not only the United States but also 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 the club and for the confidence in the players.”
Q: For Frank, from an outside perspective, what do you think have been some of the main reasons for Seattle’s success this season?
Klopas: “I think there are many, but one of the top ones I think is the man that’s doing this press conference with me. Sigi Schmid is one of the top coaches in this league and I think he’s done a great job putting a fantastic team together. I think every year, like he said, he’s going to compete not only for (MLS) championships but for the U.S. Open Cup. I think he’s been the main reason and obviously they’ve done a great job with (bringing) players in. I think he’s been the main reason, but there are a lot of little things that go into that and I think they’ve done a very good job as an organization as a whole.”
Q: For Frank, what do you remember from winning the 1998 Open Cup as a player and does that affect you as a coach?
Klopas: “Different times, obviously, from being an expansion team in ’98 and also winning the MLS Cup, getting the double at home and finishing the season like that. For me the most important thing was winning, but scoring the winning goal, moments like that will be remembered forever. You can always share it with that group. Whether you see the guys or never speak to them again, that one year, 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, for me the feeling would be different but at this moment it would probably be better to be able to do it also from this side, because I know what the players go through every day, their commitment and their focus. I think it’d be a great feeling to be on this side and even a better moment than doing it as a player. I know it’s hard to say it’d be different, but I would enjoy it more probably.”
Q: For both coaches, when would you like to play this game?
Schmid: “For me, that’s a hard one. Obviously I’ve been through different scenarios. I’ve been through the scenario where they tried to position it a week after the MLS Cup. One year we lost in the final to Columbus. We played the MLS Cup on a Sunday in New England and we had to play an Open Cup final on a Thursday in Columbus, so trying to get guys sober in time for the game was sometimes difficult. Where do you put it? Where do you place it? It’d be great (with) our schedule, like the Super Bowl, if there were 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 fixtures now for international dates, so you don’t want to put it on that date because a team playing in the final might have a guy that’s also a key member of the national team. It’s a difficult one. If it grows enough, maybe it can stand alone, like I said, toward the end of the season, but it’s a difficult question.”
Klopas: “For me also, I’d agree with Sigi. It’s a difficult one. You’d like to say maybe if this game was pushed back a day or two or so, everyone would have another day of rest in between. I played it as a player after the MLS Cup and I have to agree with Sigi, we needed a few days to recover from the celebration of winning the MLS Cup. Then we had to focus and still play in the Open Cup final. There’s no perfect thing, but I think if we found a day where the teams had a little more rest, I think that’d be ideal.”
Q: For Frank, how is Grazzini doing with the hamstring injury?
Klopas: “He’s been training obviously. He came on the trip with us to Houston. He’s been pushing himself every day in training and obviously we’re going to do a little bit more in tonight’s session and evaluate how he feels. We check tomorrow morning (to see) if he’s OK. I think he’ll be available to be on the 18 roster, but we have to see how he reacts to today’s session. We pushed a little bit yesterday with the fitness coach, a little bit more today and then we just have to see. With the hamstring you never know until you go out there and do some kind of fitness test, some kind of sprinting and see how it feels afterwards.”