Seattle goes for three-in-a-row
In the span of the past two weeks, the Seattle Sounders FC have locked up nearly every major goal on their season-long to-do list.
They clinched a Major League Soccer playoff spot for a third consecutive season. They claimed the first MLS version of the Cascadia Cup - the regional rivalry between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver - with a 3-1 win over the Whitecaps north of the border. And they advanced into the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League by pulling out a 2-2 draw in Guatemala against Comunicaciones and wrapped up one of the top two spots in their group.
Now comes the capper to Seattle's hectic recent schedule on Tuesday night when they host the Chicago Fire in the finals of the U.S. Open Cup.
The competition is one Seattle has dominated since joining the MLS three seasons ago. A win on Tuesday night would give the Sounders a third straight Open Cup title - second consecutive before their home fans - and they would be the first club to win three straight since the New York Greek-American did it from 1967-69.
The MLS playoffs still remain the priority for Seattle, and they still hold an outside shot of catching Los Angeles for the Supporters Shield, given to the team with the best regular season mark.
''Every time we play we try and put the best team out there that we think fits that particular moment,'' Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. ''The Supporters Shield is probably the most difficult one for us right now, so our focus is on the Open Cup. We want to take that one. We've qualified for the next round of the CCL, we've won the Cascadia Cup, we want to get the Open Cup now.''
It's taken ingenuity for Schmid to manage the past few weeks as Seattle has faced perhaps the most hectic schedule of any North American soccer team. It started on Sept. 10 when Seattle hosted Real Salt Lake in an MLS match. That was followed by a Champions League game in Costa Rica and consecutive home matches, one in MLS play and one in the Champions League.
That 10-day span of four matches was just the start. From there, Seattle played its northern rivals in British Columbia on Sept. 24, traveled to Guatemala to face Comunicaciones, then flew to the Northeast to face New England in an MLS match last Saturday before returning home for Tuesday night's Cup final.
Perhaps most impressive, Seattle had four wins and a draw during the seven-game stretch.
''Now we got this cup final on Tuesday and then it's all hands to try and win an MLS championship,'' Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. ''It's great to be involved in things. There's obviously a lot of belief within the team, regardless of being a goal down, we know we can come back. Things are really good.''
Seattle hasn't seen Chicago since early June and it's a much changed Fire squad that's coming to Seattle. Most notable is interim coach Frank Klopas, who played for the Fire in the Open Cup in 1998. Klopas took over just before the Sounders visited Chicago on June 4, but it's only recently that Chicago has found success. They've won five of their last seven league matches.
That recent run might not be enough to make up for early season struggles as they try to get into the MLS playoffs. So that makes Tuesday night even more important. And Chicago is familiar with success in this competition as well. They've won four Open Cups in their history, the last coming in 2006, and are 28-8-3 in the competition since 1998.
''There is a good understanding of how we want to play. We are a different team but Seattle is an excellent team,'' Klopas said. ''... I'm kind of happy the way we are at the moment and we just have to keep it going.''
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