The crowd at Qwest could prove to the difference tonight.
We've done a lot of from-the-heart writing the last couple days, but being as this is a site that takes it analysis pretty seriously, I felt it was necessary to at least give you a semblance of straight forward writing.
I'm not going to get too nitty-gritty here, but we should go into this game with a fair amount of caution.
There's no question that Columbus has fallen on hard times, losing five of their past 10 MLS matches. But this is also a team that claimed 34 points in its first 17 matches.
It is also a team that boasts one of the league's top offensive threats -- Guillermo Barros Schelotto -- and several other capable scorers -- Steven Lenhart, Emilio Renteria and Eddie Gaven, in particular. They also feature one of the top goalkeepers in MLS -- William Hesmer -- and a defensive corps as strong as any -- Chad Marshall and Andy Iro are as good a centerback pairing as any in MLS.
The Sounders will definitely look to exploit the Crew down the wings where Frankie Hejduk has started to show his age -- and has already been burnt to a crisp by Steve Zakuani in their two meetings this year -- and Danny O'Rourke is just not a shutdown player.
As they did in their meeting a couple weeks ago in Columbus, the Sounders will undoubtedly look to test Hesmer. About a month ago, he was having another stellar season. Suddenly, he and his defense started to fall apart. They gave up nine goals in three matches -- including four to the Sounders -- before rebounding with a shutout Saturday against San Jose.
The Crew's schedule also seems to have set them back. Their slide started around the same time their fixture started feeling congested with CCL play. They've had a hard time in matches on short rest, and this match will be played with just two full days between their match in Columbus.
Seattle, on the other hand, has actually played better since their schedule started getting crowded, and they have the benefit of not having to fly across the country.
As much complaining as we've heard from the Crew side, one might start to wonder how seriously they take this tournament. In case that was really a question, here's what Hejduk had to say about it.
"We haven’t won this trophy since 2002, and opportunities to win trophies, when you get to this level, come few and far between and it’s another chance for us to get some hardware," he said. "At the beginning of the year, you set your goals and this was one of them, to get to the U.S. Open Cup Final and to get a trophy. Now we have that opportunity in front of what’s going to be a big crowd and an energetic crowd. At end of day, it’s a trophy that’s named after our (late) owner and we take some pride in that. We’re going to give it our best effort and get out there and have some fun."
With this game being played in front of a packed house at Qwest Field, you have to consider the Sounders favorites. But as Sigi probably said it best when he was talking about his former team.
"They are a good team," he said. "They are a proud team [. . .] They are a team that’s going to want to come and say, ‘Hey, look, that’s not a reflection of our abilities.’ And it isn’t because they are too good of a team."