There are consequences to baiting the proudest team in MLS by questioning its fan base and its road to the cup final. In tonight's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final, Seattle will find out just what D.C. United has in store for retribution.
“It added fuel to the fire,” United coach Tom Soehn said in a phone interview earlier this week. “I'm excited to see what our fans have cooked up for them. Any time an organization takes a shot at a team that has been very successful and a fanbase that's been the class of the league, it's going to ruffle some feathers. We'll see what happens from there.”
Suffice it to say that Sounders FC won't have an easy road to lifting its first-ever title and joining Chicago as one of two teams to lift a trophy as an expansion team. It wasn't ever going to be easy, not in a venue where United hasn't lost in league play this season (5-0-5) and not on a field where United has won its two previous Dewar Trophies.
For all of the good Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer did for the final as a spectacle by calling out United for playing only home games in the competition for the past two seasons and contending Seattle would have made a far better venue given the meager congregation of 8,212 for last year's Open Cup title win over Charleston, he may have made an already daunting task even harder on his team. United launched an expensive and expansive marketing campaign in the wake of Hanauer's comments to entice more people to attend the match. While the 12,000 tickets pre-sold by Tuesday may have lent credence to Hanauer's argument that Seattle would have sold more tickets, it also put more imposing United fans in the stands than probably would have been there without the incendiary comments.
“Our fans have been here from the beginning and they make us a better team,” Soehn said. “They are our twelfth man. They're going to be riled up, which is going to get our guys riled up. We're going to represent our home fans. We're going to play the way we like to play with aggressive and attacking soccer.”
Christian Gomez | D.C. United's midfield schemer could provide decisive service from a set piece
Soehn said he expects his team to dictate the tempo, as it usually does on its home field. United will press forward with its cadre of attacking options in search of the early goal that could all but decide the final. With Christian Gomez's menacing service from free kicks in recent weeks and Luciano Emilio prowling around the penalty area, they may just find it.
United's likely endeavor means all of the pressure, literally and figuratively, will fall on the visitors. Sounders FC defender James Riley told MLSnet.com this week that coach Sigi Schmid has provided a calming presence for his team during the buildup as Seattle tries to assess the enormity of the task at hand.
“For this franchise, in its first year to get to a final is already a great accomplishment, but we don't want to be satisfied with that,” Schmid told MLSnet.com. “We want to come back with the cup. To be the first expansion team since Chicago to win hardware in its first year is definitely a goal we have.”
In a game filled with disadvantages for Seattle, Sounders FC can at least take solace in the fact that in Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero, it has perhaps the three most influential matchwinners likely to take the field. It will take good nights from those two attackers and the veteran goalkeeper, plus a formidable effort from a defense definitely missing Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (suspension) and likely missing influential centerback Tyrone Marshall (hamstring) through injury, in order for Seattle to lift the trophy.
United defender Bryan Namoff said his side is keenly aware of the danger posed by Sounders FC's attacking options after a wide-open 3-3 draw between the two teams back on June 17 at Qwest Field.
Fredy Montero | Sounders FC striker has the class to make a difference if he can shrug off his recent indifferent form
“It's not just one player,” Namoff said. “You can get hurt throughout that team, whether it's their forwards or their runs from their outside midfielders who are pretty good in the attack. We have to make sure, regardless of who is on the field or who we play against, that we're tight defensively and that we have good team shape and we transition in that shape from defense into the attack. The better we do that, the more likely we are to create opportunities on the goal.”
Those opportunities will likely come for both sides. D.C. remains the heavy favorites, a feeling only reinforced after Saturday's morale-lifting 1-0 win in Chicago and Seattle's disappointing 0-0 stalemate with Toronto FC. Form as an indicator, however, only goes so far when the stakes are this high. While Soehn said the Chicago win and the defensive improvement certainly helps his side after a tough run of form over the past month and a half, he noted that its mentality will be even more crucial in seeing off Seattle.
“The mentality in those types of situations is about the one-off,” Soehn said. “The winner goes through and the loser goes home. Those types of games build a great mentality. We've carried ourselves through the stages and we know what's at stake for the last one. It's one of the goals we've set. It helps being at home with our crowd. Hopefully at the end of the game, we're holding the trophy up and we can check one of the things off our checklist of the things we want to accomplish.”
If the match plays out as expected and United does in fact retain the title for its third Open Cup crown and 13th overall trophy, Soehn and his side may just get the added bonus of teaching the wildly successful newcomers exactly why baiting United often ends up looking like a rookie mistake.
United does win trophies, after all.
Open Cup Tidbits
- Both teams had to progress through two play-in games to even reach the tournament proper. Seattle defeated Real Salt Lake (4-1) and Colorado (1-0), while United ousted FC Dallas (2-0) and New York (5-3).
- United faced no MLS teams and played no games on the road (for the second consecutive year) after the play-in round. After playing its two play-in matches at R.F.K. Stadium, United moved out to Maryland SoccerPlex for the third round (2-0 over Ocean City), quarterfinals (2-1 over Harrisburg) and semifinals (2-1 over Rochester).
- Seattle beat bitter rival Portland 2-1 at PGE Park in the third round to hand the Timbers their only loss since April 25, but returned to Starfire Sports Complex in suburban Tukwila to defeat Kansas City (1-0) in the quarterfinals and Houston (2-1 AET) in the semifinals.
- Washington State and Washington, D.C. have squared off once before in an Open Cup final and Sounders FC fans won't like the precedent. Club Espana (D.C.) defeated Mitre Eagles (Wash.) on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw in 1987.
- Another stat that won't calm the Seattle faithful: Home teams are 9-2-0 in the final during the MLS Open Cup era.
Around The League
- In a light week due to World Cup qualifying fixtures on Saturday and Wednesday, there are no midweek games on the docket to steal the Open Cup's spotlight.
- The biggest news this week came out of the relatively low-key markets of Dallas and Colorado as the two Western Conference rivals swapped defenders on Monday. Colorado acquired Drew Moor, a second-round draft pick and allocation money from FC Dallas in exchange for Ugo Ihemelu.
- “In Drew Moor we’re getting an experienced defender in a slightly different mold to Ugo,” Rapids head coach Gary Smith told MLSnet.com. “In Ugo you’ve got a pristine athlete with lots of pace, and a terrific kid at that as well. But I think with Drew you’ve got maybe a little bit more of a cultured defender. A little bit more capable on the ball. And hopefully as versatile at right back and at center back. Throw into the equation the fact that we’re getting a considerable amount of allocation money and a pick, and what it gives us are some other assets as well that we can use within the market before the window closes on [Sept.] 15th to possibly strengthen a group that has suffered quite badly during the game on the weekend.”
- “It’s a complete shock and surprising, and it caught me off guard,” a confused and bewildered Moor told 3rddegree.net. “That being said it’s been a bit of a whirlwind the last twenty…thirty hours or so.”
Ugo Ihemelu | Speedy defender will travel south to link up with former SMU coach Hyndman
- “Ugo Ihemelu is a talented player with tremendous speed that will be a key member of our back line,” FCD coach Schellas Hyndman said in a press release. “In my time here, we haven't had that natural right back we have needed and we believe Ugo will provide that for us moving forward. We would also like to thank Drew Moor for his service to this team the past four years and wish him well in Colorado.”
- Ihemelu ($140,000) and Moor ($132,000/$142,188.89) make about the same dosh, so the finances don't have much of a part to play in this move for either side.
- Moor's an interesting fit in Colorado considering the emphasis Smith and technical director Paul Bravo have placed on pace throughout the squad. Smith said he could play either center or right back for the Rapids, but Moor's lack of pace might tilt him towards the middle in Colorado's system.
- Ihemelu's a better fit out wide than in the middle because he's a pacy defender who doesn't always tend to make the right tactical decision. Hyndman will simplify his role and play him on the right, but Ihemelu will have to improve his service to provide a proper bookend to Jair Benitez on the left.
Drew Moor | Former FC Dallas defender will be missed for his steady presence in young Hoops lockerroom
- As much sense as this deal makes on paper for the Hoops, it makes just as little sense intangibly. Moor was one of the few constants in the ever-changing FCD world and a veteran leader on a team that needs a few of them to marshal the kiddie corps. His value to the Hoops was far higher than it would be to any other team in the league, as proven by the sizable package it took to wrest Ihemelu from the Rapids. On the other hand, FCD probably got the better player out of the deal, so that provides some solace even in light of the rather steep price.
- In other FCD-related news, the Hoops will lose five players to the U.S. national team squad destined for the FIFA U-20 World Cup (Sept. 24-Oct. 16). Regular FCD first-teamer Kyle Davies will captain the side while squad player Brek Shea and reserves Josh Lambo, Peri Marosevic and Anthony Wallace will also join Thomas Rongen's delegation en route to Egypt. Other MLS representatives include Danny Cruz (Houston) and Jorge Flores (Chivas USA).
- Former FCD star Kenny Cooper is also training with the Hoops this week while 1860 Munich has the weekend off for the international break.
- Los Angeles defender Sean Franklin returned to full training on Tuesday for the first time since tearing a tendon in his right hamstring in May.
- Former San Jose forward Davide Somma signed a one-year deal with Leeds United (English League One) on Tuesday after a successful trial.
- No word yet on whether MLS will reevaluate the yellow card assessed to Colorado captain Pablo Mastroeni for his elbow on Houston defender Andrew Hainault in the Rapids' 1-0 win on Sunday. Smith hinted this week that Mastroeni could be suspended by the league (he is already slated to serve a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation), but the league hasn't said either way. With Toronto's visit ahead on Saturday, there should be news soon if an additional suspension is forthcoming. This topic received a thorough discussion in Monday's column, and it says here that a multiple-game suspension would be more than warranted for the Colorado captain.
- Three referees – Michael Kennedy, Jair Marrufo and Abbey Okulaja – were recently taken off the MLS referee list for the remainder of the season, according to the Washington Post. Marrufo was removed from the list for performance reasons in mid-June, while Kennedy and Okulaja failed mandatory mid-season fitness tests and were left off the list starting in late July.
- Marrufo's removal from MLS matches could place the chances of sending an American referee to South Africa 2010 in jeopardy and could place his own chances of staying as a full-time referee under U.S.S.F. employ in severe peril.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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