By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
TUKWILA — Two of the most successful teams in the modern history of the U.S. Open Cup meet Wednesday for the right to advance to yet another tournament final.
The four-time champion Chicago Fire plays the three-time champion Seattle Sounders at sold-out Starfire Sports Stadium.
In addition to those seven combined cups, the Fire has been tournament runner-up twice, and the Sounders once.
Chicago’s four Open Cups are the most of any MLS team. Seattle’s three-peat from 2009-2011 marked the longest championship run of any MLS team.
“I expect two teams that are committed to playing well,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s a semifinal, and we want to advance to the final of the Open Cup; so (these are) two teams that are going to leave it all out on the field.”
One of Seattle’s championships — and one of Chicago’s runner-up performances — came against each other. That was Oct. 4, 2011, when the Sounders won their third straight trophy, 2-0, over the Fire at CenturyLink Field. Four current Sounders started that match: Osvaldo Alonso. Brad Evans, Leo Gonzalez and Lamar Neagle, while Josh Ford and Zach Scott were on the 18-man roster.
Current Sounders Marco Pappa and Jalil Anibaba played for Chicago.
“They played an important part of my career,” Pappa said. “But with Seattle I’m happy about the semifinals. I’m looking forward to that game. It’s going to be a difficult game. But we’re with our fans at home, so we have to take advantage of that.”
That is one thing the Sounders have done unfailingly in this competition. Seattle has played 15 Open Cup matches at Starfire and has advanced in all of them, outscoring opponents by a combined 42-9.
Seattle has failed to survive just two Open Cup matches over its six tournaments since joining MLS in 2009. The Sounders lost the 2013 final at Kansas City on penalty kicks. And last season they were instantly ousted in their tournament opener at Tampa Bay.
Seattle has bounced back in this Open Cup with victories over amateur club PSA Elite and MLS rivals San Jose and Portland, the latter coming in the extra time in the quarterfinal round.
“We were disappointed last year by getting knocked out early,” Schmid said. “In the past years we’ve always done really well, so it’s a matter of us doing the same thing this year.”
Seattle’s success in the Open Cup predates even Schmid’s arrival or entry into MLS, as the USL club reached the semifinals in 2007 and 2008.
That tradition of taking the tournament seriously has contributed it its success, Schmid said, although he also knows from experience that it guarantees nothing.
“(When I coached) Columbus for some reason we were like snake bit in the Open Cup,” he said. “It’s not that we didn’t take it seriously, we always just suffered a ridiculous loss when we shouldn’t have lost. But obviously the history here with the Sounders is pretty extensive, going all the way back to the USL days … and I think it’s a tradition that just exists within the club.”
Both lineups are mysteries, as the teams played MLS matches on Sunday, and each returns to league play Saturday: the Fire at Montreal, and the Sounders at Real Salt Lake.
The only lineup commitment Schmid made Tuesday was that DeAndre Yedlin’s transfer issues should be settled in time for him to start at right back. Otherwise, Schmid kept his options open, even regarding forward Obafemi Martins, who had been expected to play extensively because he is ineligible for the Salt Lake match due to red-card suspension. Schmid also did not commit to goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who had started previous Open Cup matches when healthy.
Meanwhile, Chicago will be without 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee, who picked up a red card in the quarterfinal win over Atlanta.