Second-division Atlanta Silverbacks stand in Seattle's way tonight.
TUKWILA — The Sounders come into Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup game trying not to think too much about the history attached to another title defense.
The reigning three-time champs will say their focus rests solely on beating the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL in a third-round match, which kicks off at 7 p.m. at Starfire Stadium, and getting back to winning ways amid a recent MLS slump.
But there’s plenty at stake for Seattle in the 99th edition of the knockout-style tournament, which dates to 1914: No team in the history of American soccer has won four straight U.S. Open Cups, and no team has even had the chance since 1970.
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They are facts that can’t be ignored, even if the team hasn’t placed much emphasis on them yet.
“The guys know,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “The guys see the banners every day. They see that we’ve won three in a row, and the guys that are here are telling some of the new guys, so I think they understand it.”
Three years. Three Open Cup trophies.
It’s a feat accomplished only by the Fall River Marksmen/New Bedford Whalers (1930-32), Stix, Baer & Fuller/St. Louis Central Breweries (1933-35) and New York Greek American SC (1967-69).
And while MLS teams are starting to take more interest in the Open Cup — perhaps for the reward of a CONCACAF Champions League berth — that has never been an issue in Seattle.
“It’s one of those things that we definitely take pride in as an organization, as a franchise, and hopefully we’ll make another run at it,” said versatile veteran Roger Levesque.
Schmid said that mentality started in Year 1 from ownership, which has acquired hosting rights for 12 of the team’s 15 Open Cup matches to date. The message: If we enter a tournament, we’re going to try to win. Coaches and players followed that lead.
Even as MLS success will always be the Sounders’ primary goal, championships can’t be ignored.
“Trophies tell everybody what a club’s all about — the history, how good the club really is,” said defender Jeff Parke. “Everybody knows in the back of their minds that one of the most important things for the club is to do well in this tournament, to win it again.”
Important, yes, but that doesn’t mean the Sounders will play a full-strength lineup against the second-division Silverbacks. Many starters could use a break during this stretch of nine games in 32 days.
And over the past three years, Seattle has routinely called upon its depth to advance out of the early Open Cup rounds. That shouldn’t be the measure of whether a team is taking the competition seriously, according to Schmid.
“I think if you’re going six-, seven-, eight deep on your bench, you’re giving guys who are normally on the bench a chance to get a run-out and play,” the coach said. “I think that’s showing that you are taking it seriously because you’re still picking from your top 18 to 20 players.”
Overall, 39 different Sounders have played in the Open Cup the past three years, including in the qualifying rounds in 2009.
Kevin Forrest and Stephen King have been among some of the unheralded heroes in early rounds. Rarely used guys like Chris Eylander (one MLS appearance), Evan Brown (zero) and Jarrod Smith (zero) also played their parts in kick-starting the first trophy run.
“We’ve always had a good group of players from 1 to 30,” said Levesque.
The Open Cup has been proof, and to earn a historic four-peat, that will have to continue.
“In 2009, when we won the championship in D.C., there were a lot of guys that played a lot of minutes prior to that game,” said assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who led the lower-league Sounders to Open Cup success as coach from 2002-08. “There were a lot of guys who didn’t get a lot of accolades. … There were a lot of Seattle Sounders that made that final game possible. These guys, this new crop of guys, have to believe that. It’s our job as coaches, and Sigi’s job as head coach, to make sure they understand that.”
• A live webcast of the game will be available on SoundersFC.com.
• Limited tickets were available as of Tuesday evening. Prices are $16 for the covered grandstand and $12 for uncovered bleachers. Based on availability, tickets can be purchased Wednesday at Starfire (cash only) after 4 p.m., through Ticketmaster (phone and internet) until 4 p.m., at the CenturyLink Field box office until 5 p.m. and at Ticketmaster outlets until 7 p.m.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @joshuamayers
|Last year, the Sounders became the fourth team in U.S. Open Cup history to win three tournaments in a row. No team has ever won four straight.|
|Fall River Marksmen-New Bedford Whalers||1930-32|
|Stix, Baer & Fuller-St. Louis Central Breweries||1933-35|
|New York Greek American SC||1967-69|
|Seattle Sounders FC||2009-11|