Catching up with Matt Pentz
Welcome again to my weekly series of "Catching up with..." where every Tuesday I talk to someone involved in the soccer community and ask them five questions in order to better get to know them.
Usually I interview someone with ties to the Sacramento area. Because it's my website, and because I was in Seattle last week for the Copa America, I spoke with Seattle Times Seattle Sounders beat writer Matt Pentz instead this week. The 27-year-old Pentz has been with the Times since 2014 after previously covering high school sports for The Longview Daily News in Southern Washington.
The Western Pennsylvania native was nice enough to chat with me at Rhein Haus, a German pub in First Hill, after the Sounders defeated the Kitsap Pumas 2-0 in the Open Cup last Wednesday. As always, the interview is edited for content and clarity.
Me: How did you fall in love with the sport of soccer?
Pentz: The 2006 World Cup, which is odd because the U.S. was very, very bad that year. But that was kind of the first tournament that I was old enough to appreciate and really get up and get into all the games. From there, I adopted Portsmouth Football Club in England, which was a questionable call in retrospect since they're about to spend their third consecutive year in League Two. It's kind of been a rough ride.
Me: Did you grow up playing the game? What was your involvement with the game as a youth?
Pentz: That's kind of the interesting thing because as you might imagine, Western Pennsylvania is not necessarily soccer country. I always played rec soccer, even throughout high school, but in high school I played football mostly and also basketball. Soccer was kind of more just recreational for me.
Me: What has your experience been like covering the Sounders and do you think you made the right decision coming to Seattle to cover the team? How did the opportunity come about?
Pentz: Absolutely, it's definitely been the right decision. I can never complain about my job up here in this city, and with the interest [the Sounders] have and everything else. Probably most jobs work out this way, but it was all right place at the right time. Right out of college I got a job in Southwest Washington. I worked there for two years. I had interviewed for a high school job up at the newspaper here and throughout that interview talked about my interest in soccer with the sports editor, so when my job came open, he kind of had me in mind. I ended up away from home in the Northwest and it all kind of went from there.
Me: What has been your most memorable moment covering soccer and why?
Pentz: There are two separate things. We'll go first, because it's US Open Cup night and we just came from watching the Sounders play the Kitsap Pumas, last year's Open Cup game against the Timbers was just ridiculous. The three red cards and the [Obafemi Martins] injury and the referee getting escorted out by the police, that was probably the most memorable game I've covered since I've been here. And then after college, I spent three months in Ukraine covering Euro 2012. My last night in town, they sent me on assignment to the opener of the Ukrainian Premier League. As you're sort of seeing shades of now with the Eastern European hooligans at Euro 2016 and the Russian hooligans and everything else, in the 80th minute of the game, I'm in the press box just watching the game, and these mass brawls just break out everywhere. There are just fans fighting fans in front of the press box. The other writers were just completely unfazed. They were just like, "yeah, this is kind of what happens here." So that was definitely an eye-opening experience on what their soccer culture is like over there.
Me: I usually wrap these up by asking people what their prediction for Sacramento Republic FC is going to be this season, but since you're up in Seattle, I'm going to mix it up and ask you about the team you cover. The Sounders seem to be struggling this year and might not make the playoffs for the first time in club history. What's your prediction for their season this year?
Pentz: I think they'll make the playoffs. I think that they have enough talent and I think that they are going to invest this summer in enough pieces to at least get them in the playoffs. We can have a different conversation on whether six out of 10 teams should make the playoffs in MLS, but I they are certainly far and away a top-six team in the Western Conference when it comes to talent and resources and everything else. They'll do enough to get in but once you get into that knockout round, it just depends on seeding and who knows? I still think that they have enough to at least get into the field and go from there.
Me: Bonus question: There probably isn't a ton of knowledge about the Republic up here in Seattle, but what is the view from you or the rest of the local media about the possible chances of Sacramento getting an MLS franchise, or are there even any opinions?
Pentz: There definitely are opinions. If you would poll people up here on the possible [MLS expansion] cities, it would always come up in the top couple. Sacramento has put itself sort of on the forefront of that next wave of expansion. I'm sure the people here would welcome it, another West Coast team, an easy trip. I think that [the Republic] have proven themselves enough with their fan base and everything else that they should very much be at the top of that list. Where they go from here, only MLS knows, I mean, they gave New York a team without a stadium so who really knows at this point. I think they definitely belong on that list and a lot of people here certainly have them on their radar.