Quest for Fourth US Open Cup Begins Tonight.
At one point the David v Goliath nature of the US Open Cup was a great story. It captured the underdog nature of the nation's Cup tournament. The all-time numbers (MLS teams advance past lower division teams 71% of time) back up that narrative. Things last night may have shifted that a bit. Tonight's Seattle Sounders v Atlanta Silverbacks game at Starfire takes on a different meaning. MLS teams advanced at a 50% rate on Tuesday night and will go in the record books at 6-5-3.
It would be tempting to say it was because the losing teams didn't take the tournament seriously, except several did. It would be tempting to point out that no longer is it just the six best MLS sides plus two qualifiers, except four of the five past qualifying teams lost. Into this Round 3 MLSassacre the Sounders start their title defense facing an NASL team that is harder to scout than some of their past CCL opponents. 'Film' is publicly available on a UStream site and the league stretches from Edmonton to San Antonio to Puerto Rico.
The Silverbacks are not very good in league play. Their 0-4-5 -8 record does not matter. The fact that they have a poor performing keeper (backup isn't good either), does not matter. Their league leading scorer? Also doesn't matter. A roster of MLS reserve level or better players? Does not matter.
Sigi Schmid and the Seattle coaching staff will not be preparing blind, but in a knockout competition games are changed by force of will as much as overall talent. The Sounders approach according to First Assistant Brian Schmetzer is simple. "We’ll treat it like any normal game," he told reporters on Monday. "Try to show our guys where they can expose them a little bit and give ourselves a good chance of winning."
Much of that will be by forcing the game into what the Sounders are. That changes a bit at Starfire. Speed on offense is more essential (see the successes of Fucito and Le Toux on that pitch in the past), slower defenders more prone to direct play can succeed (Marshall, Graham). Height in the box can help a lot (Jaqua). Lineups in the Open Cup may be different from league play because of the pitch and not just the priority of the tournament.
Still, the speculation of who will play and how they will be used is there. It is "Opportunity Week" for the Silverbacks too. The Minnesota Stars also took the money. They handled Real Salt Lake. RSL's coach isn't making excuses. FC Dallas lost. Coach Schellas Hyndman isn't taking it well. The Columbus Crew are out of the tournment. Those "Kings of the Cup" over in Chicago? They lost to amateurs. The LA Galaxy are done. Harrisburg went down three goals in overtime and still managed to advance past the New England Revolution. In-state rival, and first year team, San Antonio pushed the Houston Dynamo aside.
Sounders players may be getting an opportunity for more playing time. Silverbacks players are seeing the opportunity to continue showing American soccer fans that there is more pro soccer here than just MLS. The biggest opportunity of all though is to do what has never been done before - four peat. S3attle can become Se4ttle, but only if the players given their chance this evening do what a mix of great, average and poor MLS teams didn't do Tuesday night - impose their will on the game and show that their salary advantage represents a talent advantage.