With a 4-1 victory over Chivas USA in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals Wednesday, Seattle is one victory away from becoming the first team in the 99-year history of the tournament to win four consecutive titles.
After beating Chivas in front of 4,500 at Starfire Stadium, Seattle players briefly celebrated and saluted their always impressive fans. The focus, however, immediately shifted from what they had just accomplished to what still lies ahead when they travel to Kansas City for the Aug. 8 U.S. Open Cup final.
Seattle, one of four teams to win three consecutive Open Cup titles, now needs just one more win to become the first team to win four straight titles in the knockout tournament that crowns the champion of U.S. club soccer dating back to 1914.
“We want this one, we want it bad,” said midfielder Brad Evans, who scored Seattle’s third goal as a second-half substitute. “... Just the chance isn’t good enough for us, we want this one, so let’s make history.”
What has made Seattle’s Open Cup run so impressive is that the Open Cup is a single-elimination tournament. A single loss in Seattle’s 18 Open Cup games dating back to 2009 would have ended this shot at history.
“You look at the history of any league around the world, and you don’t see teams winning four straight FA Cups (England) or Copa del Reys (Spain) or stuff like that,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “Teams might win four league championships in a row, but because there are so many things that can go wrong in a one-off game, it’s tough to win four in a row.”
Unlike the past two Open Cup victories, however, this one would have to come on the road for the Sounders in Kansas City’s Livestrong Park, home to one of the league’s top teams and best home field advantages. Open Cup semifinal and championship host teams are decided by a bid system, and Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer told reporters last week that Kansas City and Seattle submitted identical bids. U.S. Soccer then determined the host by a coin flip, which Kansas City won.
The Sounders secured their first Open Cup title on the road, winning at D.C. United, then captured two straight titles at home, beating Columbus in 2010 and Chicago in 2011.
“Obviously it’ll be difficult being away from home playing at Kansas City,” Schmid said. “... But we’re going Kansas City, it means the first one we won on the road and we’re going to try to win the fourth one on the road.”
Eddie Johnson, who has been on a tear having scored five of his team’s past seven goals in MLS play, continued his hot streak by opening the scoring for Seattle in the 31st minute. The goal was Johnson’s first in the Open Cup this year, but ninth in all competitions.
“With forwards, the goals come in waves, so right now I’m just trying to ride this wave,” Johnson said.
Osvaldo Alonso set up the goal with a run out of the midfield before playing a perfectly timed pass to spring Johnson on a breakaway. Johnson did the rest, firing a shot from the top of the box past oncoming Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy to give the Sounders a 1-0 lead.
Seattle doubled its lead early in the second half when Alonso scored on a 48th-minute penalty kick. Montero earned the foul moments earlier when he was hauled down in the box by Chivas defender Rauwshan McKenzie.
The Sounders nearly made it 3-1 later in the half, but Kennedy came up with a spectacular save to deny Evans a goal. And moments after the Chivas keeper kept his team in the game, Cesar Romero rewarded him with a 74th minute goal that cut Seattle’s lead in half.
The game appeared to be headed for a tense finish for a few minutes, but the Sounders regained some breathing room in the 83rd minute when Evans was able to put away Seattle’s third goal, which was set up by a Montero assist.
“It’s really important to kind of ice the game a little bit,” Evans said. “Their heads went down a little bit; it’s an uphill battle from that point.”
Five minutes later, Sammy Ochoa made it 4-1, scoring moment after checking into the game as a substitute. And with that, the rout was on as the Sounders took another step toward a bit of history.
“We’ll be very aware when we step on the field in Kansas City that we have a chance to do something that nobody has done,” Schmid said. “That should be a highly motivating factor for our club and for all of the players on our team.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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