Caleb Porter and Sigi Schmid play down rivalry with playoff lives on the line

Posted by Jason Davis

For all the enmity that flies back and forth across the Washington-Oregon border when it comes to soccer, the two Major League Soccer head coaches involved are taking pains to play down MLS' most intense rivalry. Ahead of a highly anticipated clash Saturday night in Seattle, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid and Timbers coach Caleb Porter are more interested in addressing their respective teams -- and dishing out respect for their opponent -- than feeding the hype machine around the Cascadia Derby, playoff version.

The tone struck by each was remarkably similar. To hear them tell it, the Sounders and Timbers clashing with so much on the line is a boon to the league but won't play a role in how either prepares his team.

Porter didn't necessarily label the rivalry element a distraction, but then, he didn't say it wasn't one, either.

"I won't take too much time thinking about all the peripheral stuff," Porter told reporters Thursday. "I really try to stay from game-to-game absorbed in what I need to do to prepare my team to win the game. I do think it's going to be hopefully an epic series, one people will talk about. It's the first time we've had this series in the MLS era, but it's the fourth time I believe in the history of the two clubs. So there is a bit of history there, which is great for the fans and the supporters.

"The players and myself," Porter added, "we won't be thinking about too much of those little other things, but I do think it's great for the league. I think it can add a little extra buzz to the match."

That Porter knows the playoff history between the two teams before either joined MLS reveals that the rivalry is at least on his mind, as it's surely on the mind of everyone involved. Yet he endeavored to set that dynamic aside when it came to his team's preparation, painting it as an element more important for those not involved in the competition on the field.

Schmid did him one better after training Friday, spinning a question about what role the rivalry will play in the series into a comment on the media covering it.

"It makes for great copy," Schmid said between questions about the status of right back DeAndre Yedlin and the team's unsettled goalkeeping situation. "Hopefully it makes for great ticket sales. From that standpoint, it's great. But from the standpoint of the approach to the game or what you're trying to get out of the game, it's the same. It doesn't matter if you're playing your rival or if you're playing another team that isn't considered your rival, the most important thing is you want to advance and get to the next round."

Maybe it's no surprise that both coaches are dressing the series in platitudes and coachspeak. Porter and Schmid are conscious that emotion will be high on the field regardless of what they say -- or don't say -- and are more interested in harnessing that energy than letting it run wild. Neither will need to provide extra motivation for his charges.

Indeed, Schmid seemed more interested in talking about the rivalry's ability to improve television appeal for a national soccer audience than its impact on his team.

"Obviously, people are going to tune in and see a huge crowd on Saturday, and they're going to see a great event," Schmid said Thursday. "It's what the playoffs should be; and so having it be a rival is great. I think it's great for the league, and I think it's great for soccer in this country."

The Sounders and Timbers kick off their conference semifinals series at 10 p.m. ET at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Major League Soccer's most celebrated, most intense and most anticipated rivalry renews with the stakes as high as they've ever been. Between the two legs, Sounders and Timbers fans will be center stage as they push their respective vibrant atmospheres to the limit in the name of ousting a rival and moving one step closer to an MLS Cup title.

Porter and Schmid will feel that surge of emotion as much as anyone involved, even if they play down the match's importance. Perhaps as it should be, the responsibility of fostering the rivalry elements of this matchup falls to the fans. That includes the mayors of Seattle and Portland, who made a bet on the series in the name of civic pride. The stakes? The loser has to wear the scarf of the other team and ship a case of local beer to the winner.

A pair of politicians did what Porter and Schmid were reluctant to do, and acknowledged what every knows: This one means just a little bit more.

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