Jacob Cristobal reports from the stands on the Seattle Sounders and their relentless pursuit of an unprecedented treble.
On Tuesday, August 30th, the Seattle Sounders FC had a match with FC Dallas. This was not a MLS match, rather a semi-final match in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is one longest on-going knockout cup tournament, as well as one of the oldest sports championships in the United States, dating back to 1914. Despite having a history richer than some other trophies here in the United States, the profile and prestige of the cup and tournament has only recently garnered more attention with the inclusion of Major League Soccer clubs. However it’s more than just a secondary tournament/opportunity for a club to collect hardware. Since 2008, the club that claims the US Open Cup trophy has earned a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, likening the trophy of something of a cross between the FA Cup and Carling Cup as far as importance/prestige goes.
Since 2009, the Seattle Sounders FC have claimed the US Open Cup. In 2009, their first year in the MLS, they went into Washington D.C. beat the then-defending champions, D.C. United. In 2010 as the defending champions and in front of a US Open Cup record crowd of 31,000, the Sounders FC repeated as US Open Cup Champions, defeating Columbus Crew. The match against FC Dallas last week was to secure a spot in this year’s US Open Cup Final against the MLS club Chicago Fire. The Sounders FC won to a score of 1 to nil.
To Sounders FC supporters, the US Open Cup is more than just about bragging rights and the sake of filling up the trophy case. The ability to play in the CONCACAF Champions League and having a strong showing there, in some cases trumps winning the league cup, the MLS Cup (awarded at the end of the MLS playoffs) or the Supporter’s Shield (awarded to the club with the most points at the end of the regular season). To become the very first MLS club to win the CONCACAF Champions League and earning a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup is an unbelievable honor, should it come at any point in a club’s history. However with this being the third year for the club’s existence, the amazing form the club has been in of late, supporters are in a buzz that this year might be something very special. Perhaps something more special than any of who wear the colors of Rave Green and Sounder Blue dreamt of.
Prior to the win in the semi-final match, the Sounders FC had a Champions League match in group play against Monterrey (Mexico), the defending CONCACAF Champions League champions. By all counts and measures, the Sounders FC were the underdogs, yet through amazing resilience, the Sounders FC walked out of Estadio Tecnologico with a 1 to nil victory. A win in an earlier group stage match against Guatemala’s C.S.D Comunicaciones has the MLS club on top of their group stage and in good position to advance into the knockout stages. Last year, the Sounders FC Champions League run was anything but stellar as they were pitted in that tournament’s “group of death,” though I would argue that it was a learning lesson. With a huge upset win in the Champions League and amazing form in MLS play, the Sounders have been a near white-hot status and heading into the international break, a win in the US Open Cup semi-final, was not going to be a cake walk, but the players and supporters knew it was ours for the taking.
Played at their training ground and official headquarters Starfire Sports Complex, the Sounders FC had in them a physical opponent, which included Sounders FC forward/striker Mike Fucito receiving an elbow below his right eye and being bludgeoned. Believe it or not, that action did not result in a booking/sending off, much less the whistle being blown by the referee. The only goal in the match came from other forward/striker Fredy Montero finding the back of the net in the fortieth minute. Though earlier in the match, Montero almost connected on a wonderful bicycle kick that had it gone into the net, the 4,000 plus in attendance would’ve become unhinged. It was a match that I purchased a ticket for me and my friend Jessica a month in advance and enjoyed in the heart of the supporters section.
In some ways, mostly because of the more intimate atmosphere due to the smaller venue of the ground, these knockout tournament matches are a better spectacle than the MLS matches that are played at CenturyLink Field where week in and week out, the Sounders FC continue to draw crowds double the average MLS attendance. Though regardless of it being a league or cup match, the passion the supporters have for the club is never in question. When the final whistle blew, everyone went ecstatic and soon came the chant, “WE’RE GONNA WIN THE US OPEN CUP!”
It was a glorious evening and even members of FC Dallas, most notably, one of their best players and US international Brek Shea was quoted as saying post-match, “Seattle fans are crazy…makes the game a lot of fun.” Adding to it, FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said, “We were, I think, a little intimidated by the whole event.” It’s always entertaining when visitors praise the supporters of the Sounders FC as much as the team itself, granted that supporters chants towards the opposition are anything but family-friendly. Just ask FC Dallas defender George John, whose failed transfer to Blackburn Rovers resulted in the supporters chanting, “BLACKBURN REJECT!” Three years and it’s crazy to think some still doubt if Seattle takes the world’s game seriously.
Though it wasn’t so much that we were going to win it as we were going to retain it, keep it here in Seattle. And it’s that fact along with the club just a handful of points behind the Los Angeles Galaxy, poised to make a run at the Supporter’s Shield and sitting comfortably at a certain playoff spot that gives supporters (including myself) a chill as to what can we accomplish in year three. We’ve already knocked off the rivals in Portland Timbers, assuring us of the Cascadia Cup (though there is the formality of playing a league match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC in Vancouver later this month), and with the stellar showing so far in the Champions League, and now on the verge of pulling off the vaunted three-peat, there is a indescribable buzz in the air amongst Sounders FC supporters that only falls short of the inaugural match back in 2009. Is a form of the treble in order? Can they become the first MLS club to hoist the CONCACAF Champions League trophy?
The final is set for Tuesday, October 4th. There’s a lot of chatter calling for more of CenturyLink Field’s seats to open, allowing for a staggering 40,000-plus attendance. That decision will be down to the Sounders FC’s management. Regardless of the amount of people going through the gates, there will be a lot of eyes in attendance and those watching the national TV broadcast that will witness possible history. A three-peat of a cup championship, the beginning stages of a soccer/football dynasty. The bottom line is in the third year of existence, the Seattle Sounders FC are having the sort of launch that any club (or any sports franchise for that matter) in any part of the world can only dream for.
The door to greatness is in front of them, and the Seattle Sounders FC are poised to kick it down.
To read more from Jacob, visit his blog.