TUKWILA, Wash. – The U.S. Open Cup may be just one of three trophies the Seattle Sounders could win this season, but it’s the only one that has carried special significance for the club since before its MLS days.
Tuesday against the Philadelphia Union, the Sounders will play its fifth final in the past six Open Cup competitions. While many other teams in the league have played primarily reserve rosters and failed to generate much buzz for the tournament, Seattle has always seemed to take it seriously. In 2009, the Sounders became the second MLS expansion team to win it in its first season.
Since joining MLS, Seattle has played in all but one Open Cup final, winning three straight from 2009 to 2011 before falling to Sporting Kansas City in a penalty shootout in 2012.
“Especially being around since early days of the Sounders entering the Cup and always putting a good team and finding success in the Cup, I think it’s kind of a point of pride that when you’re on the Sounders team, you just know we’re going to be solid,” defender Zach Scott told SI.com. “We’ve got the banners hanging as we exit our locker room, and we’ve got banners hanging as we enter our training field.”
Scott played on the USL Sounders team that also made the semifinals in the two years preceding the team’s three straight wins. Brian Schmetzer was the head coach of the USL team, and he continued as an assistant in MLS. Adrian Hanauer also continued with the team in MLS as its general manager.
Seattle’s emphasis on the tournament “started from the very top,” Scott said. “Adrian has taken this tournament very seriously.”
Even as a USL franchise, the Sounders bid aggressively to host every possible game in the competition. In the MLS era, they hosted 11 of 14 matches during their three championship runs, but that possibility went away with U.S. Soccer instituting a coin flip to decide hosting rights in each round beginning in 2013.
Seattle lost its first game after the format change, against the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies in the third round in 2013. Again in 2014, Seattle hosted every match until the final, with the public coin-flip proceedings favoring the Sounders every step of the way.
Hosting a game automatically makes it easier to win, but the notion that the Sounders bought their way to their Open Cup success has been fairly overblown. They lost at Sporting Park in 2012, but they also defeated D.C. United in the 2009 final at RFK Stadium.
Now, they face another final on the road, sandwiched between tough league games against Real Salt Lake and at the New York Red Bulls. Seattle is also in the thick of the Supporters’ Shield race, making its current run of five matches in just over two weeks that much more difficult to balance in terms of personnel.
Still, the team will take any chance to fill its trophy cabinet seriously.
“It’s a tournament we have to always play with 100 percent energy because always, we want to win trophies,” midfielder Osvaldo Alonso said. “I think no matter what the trophy is, you play to win it.”
It could also be the first of three major victories of the fall for Seattle. No MLS team has ever won the Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup in the same season. The LA Galaxy have come closest — under current Sounders manager Sigi Schmid — winning the Shield and MLS Cup in 2002 but losing the U.S. Open Cup final, 1-0, to the Columbus Crew.
For now, everything is up for grabs for the first-placed Sounders, and they have reason to be confident a win at PPL Park could catapult them to the treble.
“This year has been great for us: we’re top of the league, playing in the final and we can fight for the MLS Cup,” Alonso said. “I think it’s going to be special for us to win three trophies this year.”