The Seattle Sounders face the Chicago Fire today in the semifinals of the US Open Cup. This game should be a doozy and many questions abound regarding this tilt: the hierarchy of silverware, the importance of the US Open Cup, and line-up potentialities.
Seattle is in the midst of three games in seven days. Tonight’s game comes smack in the middle of the tight stretch, and is a one-off elimination game. Coach Sigi Schmid must decide how important this Open Cup semifinal against Chicago is compared to the MLS regular season.
Silverware (and legacies and legends) is what the Sounders are after. MLS Cup is king, followed by the Supporters’ Shield and then the US Open Cup. All of these trophies guarantee a berth in CONCACAF Champions League. Success in the CCL is key to the growth of the Sounders into a world-class organization. Seattle had been slowly improving in CCL play and in 2013 beating Tigres UANL before acquitting themselves well in a loss to Santos Laguna. But the Sounders’ CCL momentum came to a grinding halt as Seattle failed to qualify in 2013. Seattle must qualify this season.
Taken within the context of maximizing your chances to win games that increase the likelihood of silverware and CCL entry, last week’s game against Houston was mighty irrelevant. Sure Seattle wanted to clip their two-game skid and Sigi did start a first-choice line-up. But the game was otherwise just another chance at points for a team in a strong position table-wise.
Saturday’s game at Salt Lake is a big one. RSL sits just behind Seattle in the West, and that contest will be a six-pointer. There is no mailing in that one, as Schmid must start a strong squad in Sandy, UT. This is the crunch that complicates tonight’s game.
Winning or losing against the Fire doesn’t mean crap for the MLS table or Cup. But this is Seattle’s surest way to clinching a CCL berth. The Sounders are only two wins away from doing so for the first time since the 2012 season. How can Seattle start a strong enough squad to contend tonight while resting key players from Sunday’s game for Saturday’s?
The presence (or lack thereof) of the teams’ star strikers could decide tonight’s game. Last month in Chicago’s USOC quarterfinal victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks, Mike Magee picked up a red. Thus he will be unavailable for selection by Fire coach Frank Yallop. Obafemi Martins has yet to play in any of Seattle’s Open Cup games so far but will gobble up minutes tonight. Coach Sigi Schmid said as much, as Martins was red carded against Houston and cannot play Saturday at Salt Lake.
The rest of the starting lineup for Seattle is unknown outside the coach’s office. Like Martins, DP striker Clint Dempsey has yet to play in an Open Cup game this season. Considering the tight turnaround and travel, we may see this trend continue. Chad Marshall, Djimi Traore and Lamar Neagle both made their first starts after injures last Sunday and should be rested. Taking all this into consideration here is my proposed lineup for tonight’s Thrilla in Tukwila:
I am sticking with Frei over Hahnemann. I know Sigi said it was Marcus’s tournament, but he doesn’t look 100% match fit in warm-ups and Frei has been solid. Marshall is returning form his freak injury, but has otherwise been an iron man. His leadership and aerial presence will be vital in the cozy confines of Starfire. Ozzie is a rock capable of stockpiling minutes, but Pineda ain’t getting any younger, that is why I am excited to see Andy Rose in his first extensive action since the Montreal game wayyy back in March. He is a solid ball-winner and better than Pineda in the air.
Lastly, I am pairing Kenny Copper with Martins up top. I thought about Neagle, as he has quite the chemistry with Martins, but Cooper has been an Open Cup scoring machine. Matching him with a talented, attention-grabbing striker like Martins could mean a bonanza for the tall Texan.
Bold Prediction: I nailed last week’s 2-0 win over Houston, so hopefully my hot hand stays ablaze. The Magee-less Fire are no match for any Sounders squad. Seattle 2-1.