Seattle Sounders FC achieved noteworthy significance in its first year of MLS existence in 2009 by achieving the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Trophy.
One year later as the 2010 campaign moves toward its close and the playoffs, with the Sounders very much in the hunt for a wild card spot, it is time to defend that treasured trophy.
Earlier in the run to the finals Coach Sigi Schmid said with relish, “It would be nice to be able to raise that trophy aloft before our home fans.”
Tuesday that opportunity will become reality. At 7 p.m. PT before another capacity crowd at the Xbox Pitch of Qwest Field the Sounders face the Eastern Conference’s first place team in the U.S. Open Cup finale.
While the Sounders are motivated toward defending a prestigious cup won last season and the thrill of winning it a second time in succession before their home fans, Columbus is seeking payback for Seattle’s recent visit. That occasion marked the Sounders scoring won of the premier wins and inflicting one of the biggest losses on Columbus in that storied franchise’s history.
Another element of drama is that Sigi Schmid coached at Columbus prior to taking the Seattle job when the team launched its MLS franchise last year.
He knows the people in the Columbus organization well, and has said frequently, “You hate to lose to your friends because when you do you hear about it more often.”
August 18 was a night that the Sounders and their faithful treasure and Columbus Crew and patrons would like to forget. Behind a dazzling three-goal performance by Blaise Nkufo, Seattle scored a 4-0 triumph.
In Schmid’s Monday press conference he focused on the issue of that first meeting as well as Columbus’ pride.
“I think it does register,” Schmid said regarding the August 18 game. “It certainly gives us some confidence but, like I said before, they are a good team. They are a proud team... They are a team that’s going to want to come and say, ‘Hey, look, that’s not a reflection of our abilities.’ And it isn’t because they are too good of a team.”
A milestone event such as a U.S. Open Cup final carries enduring memories. Schmid recalled his 2002 MSL and U.S. Open Cup experiences when he was coaching the L.A. Galaxy.
“We have played for a trophy in front of New England Revolution’s home fans when we played (for the) MLS Cup in 2002,” Schmid said. “Foxborough was sold-out (with) 60,000-plus (fans) and that was a tough game because you had 60,000 Revolution fans and no fans or a very small pocket of fans for L.A.
“So I know what that feels like (to be the road team),but I’ve never really had the opportunity to win the championship at home and if we did it at home it was in front of a small crowd.
“I think when we won it against New England, when we won it that year, the Open Cup, we played at (California State) Fullerton and there were maybe about 7,000 that were there. But definitely this is going to be a very unique and a very special feeling.”
The victory carries the prospect of advancing to Champions League competition in 2011. This is a possibility that Schmid savors. He believes that a victory over Columbus Tuesday will propel his team into those ranks.
“That’s the way it worked last year,” Schmid said. “To have the Open Cup champion qualify gives meaning to the tournament. If you don’t have a qualification attached to it, it takes a little more away from the tournament and I think it’s at a time where we have got to add some prestige to the tournament and having qualification adds some prestige.”
A question that has been hanging in the air is the status of Terry Boss, backup goalkeeper to Captain Kasey Keller. Boss had been called to perform for the Puerto Rico National Team. Schmid sounded a note of optimism on Boss’ return for Tuesday’s match.
“I spoke to his coach yesterday,” Schmid informed. “They have a game tonight (Monday) and they are going to allow him to fly out tomorrow morning. So barring any problems either in the game tonight or airplane or connection problems, we expect him to be here.”