Saturday afternoon in an important match against Toronto FC at the Xbox Pitch of Qwest Field, Gambian midfielder Sanna Nyassi scored the first goal of his MLS career in helping lead his Seattle Sounders teammates to a 3-2 victory.
After the match Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said tongue-in-cheek, “After congratulating Sanna I told him we don’t want to wait two years for another goal.”
The two years involved the time that it took the 21-year-old to achieve his first goal. With the scene moving forward to the same Qwest Field venue Tuesday night Nyassi was primed for more goals in the Sounders’ defense of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup they won last year.
The talk all week in Seattle was that the championship match would set a tournament record and it did as 31,311 turned out to robustly root the home team to victory. The previous attendance record in the 97 years of the tournament was 21,583 for the 1929 game in Brooklyn.
Nyassi scored both goals in a tough, intensely contested defensive struggle won by the Sounders 2-1 against the same Columbus Crew team that they dispatched impressively 4-0 September 18 on the Crew’s home pitch.
Schmid, who had coached at Columbus prior to assuming the Sounders’ reins when the franchise began last season, had said that the Crew is a proud team and would be determined to show it is much better than the overwhelming, earlier defeat against Sounders FC.
“They want to prove that they are a better team and they are,” Schmid said.
The Crew commenced play looking focused and ready for business. Columbus left an early calling card for the Sounders with a goal in the 24th minute by Kevin Burns. Frankie Hejduk got behind the Seattle back line. He sent a cross to Steven Lenhart, who dropped a pass to Burns in the middle of the box. Burns' left-footed shot beat a diving Kasey Keller inside the far post.
Nyassi then moved into action in concert with fellow midfielder Nate Sturgis to knot the count. Sturgis delivered one of the best crosses of the season August 28 to enable Fredy Montero to garner the winning score in a 2-1 home victory over Chicago. Tuesday he was more than up to the challenge of repeating that feat.
With strong defenses bolstered by two of the top goalkeepers in MLS in Kasey Keller for the Sounders and William Hesmer for the Crew, at halftime with the score even at 1-1 it appeared that one more goal might be enough to snare the U.S. Open Cup Trophy. This turned out to be the case.
In the 66th minute Nyassi drilled home the title decider. It came with an assist from, of all sources, the crossbar. The interesting as well as exciting play came after teammate Steve Zakuani headed a shot off the crossbar.
With Zakuani’s shot moving toward him, Crew goalkeeper Hesmer reacted by leaping into the air as the ball surged above him and hit the crossbar. Nyassi took advantage of one of the cardinal rules of soccer of being near the goal at the right time with the opposing goalkeeper having committed himself.
With Hesmer unable to react, Nyassi was opportunistic as the ball sprang toward him. He drilled the shot that prompted champagne bottles to open a short time later in the Sounders’ celebratory dressing room.
Sounders FC’s triumph resulted in the first back-to-back U.S. Open Cup triumph in 27 years. The New York Pancyprian Freedoms won back-to-back titles in 1982-83. The Sounders defeated D.C. United in the 2009 final. The team stands on the cusp of a return to the postseason playoffs with 42 points.
This is a game where the hot hand rules, and successful teams take advantage of this with players rotating whomever is on a scoring surge. This season when the Sounders offense came alive, the surge began with Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani. Recently Swiss National Team and Dutch League designated player Blaise Nkufo has been on fire with five goals in the team’s key victories against Columbus (where he scored a hat trick) Chicago, and Toronto.
For the moment that hot hand now belongs to Nyassi. He scored the third and ultimately deciding goal in the 3-2 win over Toronto Saturday, then continued his run with the two tallies that brought his team the U.S. Open Cup Trophy on Tuesday.
The determined Ohio team nearly tied the match in the closing minutes. A Robbie Rogers eight-yard drive hit the underside of the crossbar.
When the final whistle blew the celebration began. The crowd roared when Schmid took the mike and saluted Seattle fans as “the greatest” in soccer. It saluted a delighted Kasey Keller, shouting the 40-year-old team captain’s name repeatedly. Meanwhile Sounders players took turns hoisting the trophy proudly.
It was a night to remember in the Emerald City.
Seattle is undefeated at 9-0-1 in 10 Open Cup-related matches. Sounders FC is 11-1-3 in its last 15 domestic (MLS and Open Cup) matches and is unbeaten in its last nine (7-0-2) at home in MLS and Open Cup play.
Sounders FC return to league play Saturday with a road engagement against the Kansas City Wizards. Action will begin at 5:30 PT.
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