Three thoughts from the Seattle Sounders’ 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union in extra time of the 2014 U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday in Chester, Pennsylvania:
• Sigi Schmid’s decision not to start Obafemi Martins and Marco Pappa was confusing — and then looked like a stroke of genius. The tournament’s leading goal scorer, Kenny Cooper, also started on the bench and stayed there all match. Pappa came straight from playing in Copa Centroamericana with Guatemala, meaning he likely wasn’t as fresh as he could have been after playing in a schedule-packed tournament. Martins, on the other hand, was healthy by all accounts.
Instead of panicking when his team was down 1-0 at halftime, Schmid kept his starting 11 on the field. Martins came on at the hour mark, assisting the eventual game-winning goal in extra time and adding the insurance goal, and Pappa cracked a shot off the crossbar with the last touch of the first half of extra time. A league match in New York on the weekend partly influenced Schmid’s decision-making, but it didn’t matter in the end. Both Martins and Pappa eventually played, and they both helped tilt the flow of the game decidedly in Seattle’s favor in the last hour of the match.
• Cup finals typically illustrate how delicate momentum is in soccer, and this one was no different, as the match ebbed and flowed between the two teams. One-off matches are the most difficult to predict and control, since anything can happen over a single 90-minute — or 120-minute — period. Seattle started with the upper hand, but Philadelphia took the lead via Maurice Edu right before halftime. Then, Seattle created the majority of the chances, with Chad Barrett scoring the equalizer, and touched off another period of Sounders' dominance before the Union controlled the match again until the full-time whistle.
Seattle controlled extra time, aided by Martins and Pappa’s freshness, as well as the likely lingering memory of its 2012 final's loss in penalties to Kansas City. Dempsey and Martins combined well, a sight fans have grown accustomed to seeing in league play, and the Union couldn’t crack the Sounders’ defense in the final 15 minutes. Instead, Martins capped his performance with a burst of speed and simple finish in the dying minutes to secure the result.
• For the final of a domestic cup, attendance and visibility of the match should have been higher. In a lot of places, the Open Cup is not as coveted a competition as even Major League Soccer, with attendance notoriously low. Announced attendance on Tuesday was 15,256, the lowest for an Open Cup final in six years. To their credit, the Sounders had over 30,000 fans at CenturyLink Field both years they hosted the final, but games in other places have been more sparsely attended.
The competition isn’t marketed as heavily as MLS, but it shouldn’t need a lot of hype. Another major factor in the game’s lack of visibility has been its lack of an accessible television broadcast. GolTV, buried by or nonexistent on most cable providers, has broadcast its last Open Cup final unless its rights are renewed. Next year is a chance for U.S. Soccer to draw some more attention to the match across the country by selecting a new provider.