US Open Cup

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers: Detox

Another pivotal chapter was written in the Cascadian Book of Hate after a 3-1 extra time victory by the Portland Timbers over your Seattle Sounders. I decided to hold off on my live USWNT recap due to the wild crazy events that took place Tuesday night at Starfire.

Every Sounders-Timbers match is potentially the stuff of legend. This last one sure didn’t disappoint. That is unless, you are a Sounders fan. Losing to the Timbers sucks. Hard. I hate them, and we sure didn’t need another reason to pile on the hate. However.

It was only the Open Cup. Being knocked out early sinks, but it could be a blessing. The Sounders are no longer dependent on the Open Cup as the opportunity to find quality minutes for the young guns. Not with S2 fully operational. So losing only really keeps us from… winning another Open Cup?

I don’t want to treat “our” trophy lightly, but we’ve won that silverware so many times. I’m still #hellagreedy, it’s just the Sounders have other goals this season. With CCL and the dog days of the MLS season approaching, missing the USOC eases fixture congestion. If losing to the Timbers helps us stay sharp and keep our focus on winning two previously unsummited tournaments, the MLS Cup Playoffs and CCL, then I’ll gladly suffer the loss. But then again we said something similar to this back in 2013 after the Tampa Bar Rowdies roughed us up, and that season fell apart. At least we can point to the boondoggle that was two MLS clubs facing off so early and take solace in not getting shellacked by a JV team.

Speaking of the JV, Sigi started quite the mixed lineup on Tuesday. Perkins, Kovar and Fisher in the back five; Azira, Rose, Roldan AND Leo in the midfield? It doesn’t hurt too bad to lose when you know started a B- lineup. Especially because Seattle’s motley crew lost to a full strength Timbers squad. And Portland needed a 4-man advantage to ice it. C’est la vie. Clearly Sigi wasn’t all out like Caleb Porter. I’m sure those in Stumptown are feeling warm and fuzzy inside but, c’mon guys, you barely beat S1.5. As Sigi said, our boys “fought like lions.”

The only downside to their grit was the amount of minutes logged. Sigi was clearly looking at rationing minutes and keeping guys fresh for the upcoming stretch of key league games. But with the madness of the game, key players like Dempsey, Marshall, and Neagle all clocked serious minutes. And then Oba. Oh lord, Oba. Martins was stretchered off the field after untimely collision with the overrated Darlington Nagbe. Oba underwent an MRI yesterday and the results should be revealed sometime today. Prognosticators predict a bad result (sports hernia, broken rib?). Starting a weak team to save the big boys only works if you don’t end up throwing said big boys into a meat grinder.

And then there is the curious case of Clint Dempsey. Dempsey gets heated. In a game like Tuesday’s, Dempsey got heated. Then he… ripped the logbook from the ref’s pocket and proceeded to shred it. That got him a straight red and possibly a huge suspension. MLS and USSF will need to decide how to discipline his actions, but it could be pretty darn serious.

That said, I’m glad Deuce stood up for Azira. These two Sounders come from a very different pedigree. Azira has played in the USL and Deuce the World Cup. The Sounders all share a tight bond. Upon Azira’s bogus red card, Deuce got heated. He got mad for Azira, mad for Seattle. Dempsey was standing up for Seattle. That was great to see. Not only does it highlight a real esprit de corps within the Rave Green, but also that Dempsey takes being a Sounder very, very seriously. Sure, some people will write it off as Deuce being a punk, but I loved it.

 

The History of the US Open Cup

Still basking in the Seattle Sounders’ annihilation of the Chicago Fire in Wednesday’s US Open Cup Semifinal, I came across this brilliant article by Graham Parker. Parker wrote it for Al Jazeera America last year before D.C. United beat Real Salt Lake in the USOC Final. The article details the history, appeal and adversity of America’s oldest soccer tournament.

Josh Hakala proposes an image most American sports fans could conceive seeing only in movies.

“Imagine a tournament,” he said, “where the New York Yankees are forced to play a minor league baseball team in a game that really matters — and they lose.”

His respect for the competition goes beyond the desire to win a trophy to a recognition that the continuity of the Open Cup in some ways stands for all the unsung players, coaches, fans and administrators who somehow kept the idea of soccer alive in America, even during the dark times. When he became a coach, many of his new coaching colleagues were old enough to have been players when soccer’s top-level prospects in the United States looked remote.

“My peers, so to speak, are part of that so-called lost generation who played on that indoor circuit, who took that bus to Albany, who took that bus down to Florida, sleeping on the bus, eating at Denny’s,” he recalled. “I hear that from the coaches I interact with day to day, and I respect that and realize how fortunate we are for all the steps, leagues and players that have helped us get where we are with MLS. I’m excited about our cup run, and as a coach, I put out my best team for it, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for this tournament.”

Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said he sees room for improvement in how the tournament is “formatted, treated and viewed” but is a fan of the cup.

“I think the idea of the U.S. Open Cup is a great one. I love that it’s all levels of the game, starting from the amateurs to the semipros,” he said at a press conference Monday. “I love that we have that trophy, and I think it’s a great one.”

The question of how to follow the tournament is a vexing one: The final will be broadcast on the cable channel Gol TV, but most earlier rounds can be found only by watching local online streams of wildly varying quality or following on Twitter.

Still, “even the worst streams are better than it was 10 years ago when I started the site. We’d literally be calling clubs up two days later to ask, ‘What was the score?’ because there was so little coverage,” Hakala said. “But it would be great if someone had the vision to see what’s unique about this tournament and could step up with a TV deal. In time, it really has the potential to capture the nation’s imagination like a March Madness or something like that. It’s an amazing tournament. It’s survived every attempt to kill it, and it’s still going after 100 years.”

Looking ahead to the next century of tradition, Salt Lake’s Kreis hopes to see the tournament take a more prominent position in American soccer.

“When you look at the FA Cup and the history that it has over in England — I think we should be doing everything to emulate that trophy and impart importance to the tournament,” he said. “But we need the leadership to do that. We need the people that put on the tournament from Round 1 to the final (to do it) because, honestly, it feels to me that it’s just now that we’re in the final, now it’s a real game.”

Check out the rest of the article, it is a fine read. Al Jazeera also has a nifty slide show about the history of the Open Cup that features the Sounders. Hopefully Seattle makes makes Open Cup history next month in Philadlephia.

DeAndre Yedlin Transfers and the Sounders Near Ascension

The Seattle Sounders rolled to an emphatic victory against the Chicago Fire last night in the semifinals of the US Open Cup. In winning, Seattle clinched their fifth berth in the USOC finals in 6 years. The Sounders will meet the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park in Chester, PA on September 16th for the Open Cup Championship.

I am starting to get cocky. Yes Seattle lost the “coin flip” and must travel for the final. I don’t want to get overly confident more than a month from the match, but this is a very winnable game. Philly in 2014 is not SKC in 2012. Yes sometimes the lesser team wins (see D.C. United vs. RSL, 2013), and yes travel means we won’t benefit from the Tukwila hoodoo, and yes, Ricardo Salazar may even referee the match (it’s a possibility), but the Sounders look like a strong bet to be hoisting the Lamar Hunt Cup in mid-September.

Seattle would be joining some lofty company if they win their fourth USOC title in sixyears. Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles are the only teams in the 100+ years of the tournament to win more than 4 titles (both have 5), and only the just beat Chicago Fire plus the Fall River Marksmen, Greek American AA, and the Philadelphia Ukrainians have won 4. But no team has been an Open Cup powerhouse like Seattle since the dawn of the competition when the aforementioned Bethlehem Steel made five finals appearances in five years, winning four titles. Maccabi Los Angeles’s accumulated their titles over a decade much like Chicago did. Seattle is quickly becoming a legend in this tournament, especially after so thoroughly dousing the Fire, the only other MLS team that can claim such Open Cup accolades.

***

All my prognosticating about lineups went mostly for naught and my bold prediction was overly conservative. We pissed on them! Seattle started a solid lineup and scored a boatload of goals. Seriously, look at how may players had a multiple point game:

Kenny Cooper: 2 goals, 2 assists

Obafemi Martins: 1 goal, 1 assist

Andy Rose: 2 goals

Marco Pappa: 2 assist

And Chad Barrett and DeAndre Yedlin also contributed to the scoring.

Bonanza.

***

We can continue to play line-up Nostradamus. Given minutes played, injuries sustained and cards accumulated, projecting the Sounders lineup is a little like Sudoku. Chad Marshall should start in the big six-pointer Saturday against RSL on normal rest, as should Clint Dempsey and a getting-fit Leo Gonzalez. Obafemi Martins cannot play due to his red card suspension.

Hopefully none of this comes back to bite the Sounders as they continue sussing their way through this very congested schedule, but Oba’s suspension begs the question, why only give him 17 minutes against the Fire? Sigi will need to pair someone up top with Dempsey. Both Cooper and Barrett got extensive minutes last night. The only other striker option is Lamar Neagle. I am nervous about Neagle’s availability. He got roughed up a bit by the Fire and I wonder if he can start or even contribute Saturday. On the other hand, Sigi never seems to question Pappa’s fitness. Is he as much an Energizer Bunny as Ozzie? He just keeps going and going and going.

Gonzalo Pineda should join Ozzie in the middle on normal rest, but Andy Rose looked absolutely solid last night. Solid. Hell I have been a big Pineda supporter all season, but if Rose keeps playing like he did against Chicago… I’d like to see his name permanently affixed to the starting lineup.

***

Congratulation to DeAndre Yedlin for getting the ink on the paper. Yedlin has officially signed a transfer to join Tottenham Hotspur for a reported $4 million fee. The North London club expects to have Yedlin for the 2015 EPL season meaning Yedlin is here for at least the rest of this year and possibly part of next (unless Spurs decides to loan him to a club closer to White Hart Lane). You were too good so soon Yedlin, I wish you the best of luck as you chase challenges and your dream overseas. But first, let’s get that treble!

Seattle Sounders vs. The Chicago Fire in USOC Semifinal

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:

Frei

Gonzalez

Scott

Marshall

Yedlin

Pappa

Ozzie

Rose

Evans

Martins

Cooper

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.

Seattle Beat Portland!

Your Seattle Sounders beat the insufferable Portland Timbers 3-1 in extra time last night near the banks of the Green River.

You already know this because I am posting late. I apologize for not giving you a prompt and thorough Raving perspective on the action. It’s been a busy week at the homestead. Luckily, we’ll see the rivalry renewed on Sunday. Let’s do it again.

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Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers: The Thrilla in Tukwila

Tonight the Seattle Sounders face the hated Portland Timbers down in Tukwila in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup.

This week is going to be intense. Two Portland games in one week and both count. Faced with such circumstances, I often find myself as a fan making these bargains with the devil:

I can’t imagine losing either game, so hopefully at worst we just draw both.
We can’t tie the Open Cup game.
Okay… We win the Open Cup, but tie the league game.
Are you saying that the Open Cup means more than the Cascadia Cup and the MLS table?
Maybe?
Ok. We win the Open Cup game on penalties and barely scrap by Sunday night as well.
Cool. Two wins I like it.
Don’t you think we’re being greedy?

My dual personalities aside, both games are going to be wild. The Timbers finally want to get their season rolling and the Sounders want to continue their march to glory. Coach Sigi Schmid has shown a complete willingness to start veterans in midweek Open Cup games, but this game might be different considering we face Portland again on short rest. “It’s obviously a little bit different because you’re playing two games back-to back,” Schmid said yesterday. “We’re going to put the best team that makes sense with a little bit of an eye towards Saturday [Sunday].” I think Sigi may be blowing smoke on a red herring here. Both Seattle and Portland want a punched ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League and the associated allocation money. Winning the USOC is a surefire to achieve that. And besides, no team wants to lose to their rival under any circumstance, preseason friendly or the playoffs (ugh. don’t mention the playoffs). I expect full-strength squads from both sides.

But Seattle won’t have Clint Dempsey tonight, who’d rather chat up ‘ol Dave Letterman than play at Starfire. I’m kidding here. I do not begrudge Dempsey a slow, confetti-filled return to the lineup. First of all, it is great publicity for the league. Only us diehards are clued in to the match of epic proportions brewing down by the Green River. Dempsey on the Late Show will get many more Americans thinking about soccer (and the Seattle Sounders!). Also the man got the crap kicked out of him in Brazil, so take your time and come back strong Clint.

Seattle will field a much stronger lineup than they sent to BC, as we will have Ozzie Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda back manning the middle. But I doubt DeAndre Yedlin plays. If he does Starfire will go bananas. Unfortunately my wife and I won’t be there for this historic spectacle. After watching the last two Open Cup games live, the rout of PSA Elite and the dramatic slugfest with San Jose, we had to bow out on this one. I teach Wednesday nights and so had to be a “responsible adult” and go to work and not a soccer game. Man, I wanted to yell mean things at Will Johnson. I wanted to give Diego Chara the stink eye so hard he crapped his pants. And of course I want to hear Starfire explode when we fell the Timbers.

Eddie Johnson: Postmodern American Athlete

The Seattle Sounders continue their dominant run through Major League Soccer, dispatching Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United one-nil.

Team Rave Green looked great despite short rest and missing starters. Former Sounder Eddie Johnson looked… not so great. It is somewhat painful to see Eddie have such an off year. Sure we was a cancer and a narcissist, and he is potentially to blame for the team imploding down the stretch, but, and maybe this seems insane, I’ll admit it: I love Eddie Johnson.

Eddie Johnson has swagger. He is the archetypal American athlete: supremely talented, hyper-confident, playing with anger and a chip-on-the-shoulder. Think Kobe Bryant or Larry Bird. Over the past two seasons, Eddie made MLS feel like a mainstream American sport. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable. But it helped some fans access and relate despite the foreignness of the game.

Eddie brings to the league something that I, as an American sports fan, feel MLS severely lacks: the postmodern American athlete. There’s a showmanship, a confidence, that is inherently American and Eddie, at his best, personifies that. He has the meta-awareness of the spectacle, the showbiz of the sport that most postmodern athletes have and the throwbacks and muckers don’t. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are both great, but they’re just soccer players. Like Butkus or Chamberlain before them, they don’t break the fourth wall. Jordan started it and T.O. ignited it. Hell even Mario Balotelli acts more American than American soccer players. MLS needs more Richard Shermans and DeSean Jacksons. As American sports fans, we speak that language. The flashy jock is a trope we can follow. We get it.

It was fun to watch Eddie dominate in Rave Green. In 2012, I watched a grainy feed of a US Open Cup game against the San Jose Earthquakes at Kezar Stadium. Helluva game. The Earthquakes were dominant that season, and we were defending our USOC Championship streak. The game was tense, but the feed was crappy and I was mighty confused by the fracas after the final whistle. Later I read that Eddie had thrown a punch at an Earthquake and my first reaction was HELL YEAH! Screw the Goonies and Lenhart and that cheap SJ crap. Eddie did what I, in an id-engulfed, soaked, primal rage, wanted to do. He punched fools, crowed about it and scored goals. Lots of goals.

Plus Eddie had a redemption narrative of the proud man humbled and pulling himself out of mediocrity. He was reinventing himself a la Roy Halladay or Drew Brees, so there was a lot in him and his story that was a relatable for American sports fans. Unfortunately, he jumped that narrative and became the stereotype, he became a T.O.

Eddie’s attitude was always a problem. Fredy didn’t like him. Hahnemann didn’t like him. In some bonus footage from Levy Films’s American Football Blu-Ray, Eddie, after a nil-nil draw against RSL, storms into the locker room complaining about not seeing any crosses, blaming the team for not feeding him and settling for the draw. This was tame, as his antics became more flamboyant and selfish and culminated in Columbus last year with the “pay me” celebration. That was vintage T.O. circa 2005, some straight-up team chemistry cancer. But he got we wanted, the man got paid.

Unfortunately, Eddie is a shadow of his former glory. He isn’t scoring goals or making headlines, but I always love Eddie Johnson because he played hard against the Timbers. He killed those Limberdicks and loooved doing it. Eddie always played big in big games. Do I think he played hard for the team? Hell no. He didn’t hustle for team, crest or city. He played for his ego and his stats, to quell the demons in his brain. He played for himself, for that mythic wound to his ego and identity that forever threatens to swallow the most talented and fragile athletes.

Seattle Sounders Dispatch Pesky San Jose Earthquakes

The Seattle Sounders rocking their Pitch Black kits prevailed over the obstinate San Jose Earthquakes in a penalty shootout in the US Open Cup. Though the culminating shootout was decisive, the 120 minutes of the game were a doozy. San Jose played well. Lenhart flopped often. But through it all neither the Sounders nor their supporters flagged.

It was a privilege to be at Starfire for this game. From applauding the once (and hopefully) future Sounder Fredy Montero to when the crowd went dead silent for every penalty a Sounder took, I look forward to saying I was there when. Starfire is a magical pitch.

The Sounders advance to face the Portland Timbers July 9th in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup. Seattle welcomes Portland to the Tukwila Slaughterhouse. I cannot wait.

US Open Cup: Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes at Starfire

Your Seattle Sounders face the physical (to put it nicely) San Jose Earthquakes in the constricting confines of Starfire Sports complex tonight at 7:30pm. Mrs. Ravinggreen and I had a blast at our last game there and snatch up the chance to attend this match.

The Sounders don’t lose US Open Cup games at Starfire (15-0 with a 42-8 goal differential). However the Earthquakes prefer smaller pitches (such as their home pitch at Buck Shaw Stadium) as the tight space allows them to play their preferred smash-mouth style of soccer. The last Seattle-San Jose game featured a B team from the Earthquakes, but they should field a much more competitive side tonight.

Bold Prediction: The voracious home fans are too much for the floppoons from the South Bay. Sounders depth proves the difference as Seattle prevails 3-1.

US Open Cup: Seattle Sounders Rout PSA Elite at Starfire

I had the pleasure of participating in my first match at Starfire for the Seattle Sounders 5-0 rout of PSA Elite in the 4th round of the US Open Cup.

First off, I am grateful the Sounders have an urban stadium. Getting to Tukwila from North Seattle was a hassle. My wife and I tried to be sneaky and avoid the 5 until past downtown, but taking Roosevelt from Maple Leaf through the U to the Hill then downtown was an odyssey. I regularly mock all the empty seats in Commerce City and Frisco, but if the Sounders played in Tukwila… it’d be tough.

That said the drive was worth it because Starfire is a gem of a stadium. Crossing the practice fields where the Sounders daily punch the clock you come to the field. The stands are close to the pitch and provide not only an excellent view of the game (though the technicality of the players is impressive up close). The proximity allows an interactive aspect of the game. You can hear the ball pop audibly off the players’ boots. You can yell at the players (or opposing coach!) and know they hear you. The Starfire experience is unique. I mean this in the best way possible, it felt like a high school football game. Or maybe a state fair. The atmosphere in the stands felt down-home. Mrs. Ravinggreen and I bought the $12 tickets and so sat between the real housewives of South King County and love-struck teenagers in the uncovered bleachers amongst the suburban families. We were in a swarm of Sounders swag-clad kidderoos, which was fun. They danced and bounced throughout like good supporters should.

The game was mostly a chance to see fresh faces rock the Space Needle crest. Captain Brad Evans commanded his motley crew of charges deftly, blending experience (himself, Kenny Cooper, Leo Gonzalez) with youth (Aaron Kovar, Sean Okoli, Michael Azira) and underplayed veterans (David Estrada, Cam Weaver, Jalil Anibaba). And Brazilian-born Fabio Pereira earned his first minutes in a game that mattered replacing Evans in the second half. These Sounders made sure to represent well, as they played entertaining and dominant soccer.

The Sounders cruised to victory over their amateur opponents. Their first goal was on a penalty well earned by a hard-working Aaron Kovar. Kenny Cooper played his heart out, earning a brace and almost the hat trick. Sean Okoli and Zack Scott rounded out the scoring. Even Ozzie Alonso, who didn’t suit up, got in on the action catching a ball in the stands like a bleacher creature and received a round of applause. Though Marcus Hahnemann stole the show, swapping his sweaty jersey for a beer from the cheap seats shortly after the final whistle.

Slowly crossing the bridge over the Green River with all the other fans post-game, my wife noticed bubbles breaking on the surface of the water. It was dusk and time for fishing. People sang. Some called “Seattle!” and others responded “Sounders!” I cannot wait to go back to Starfire.

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