Seattle Sounders FC have faced teams in the tier just below MLS several times in the US Open Cup (twice on the road to Portland and once against Atlanta at Starfire). Their record in those three matches is 2-0-1 +5, which is not far off their overall record of 17-0-2 +32. The Tampa Boy Rowdies offer some similar challenges to those two Timbers sides, but they are amplified by travel distance and squad strength.
Like all clubs just below MLS, Tampa has fringe MLS quality on the roster. Raphael Cox and Daniel Scott are the most well known to the people of Puget Sound, but they also have Diego Restrepo at keeper. A collegiate stand-out, Restrepo played a couple of years for pro clubs in South America before returning to the US. He trialed with DC United and the Philadelphia Union and eventually landed with the Rowdies.
There are also a handful of international talents powering the squad.
"They've got a good Bulgarian forward-Georgi Hristov-who's scored a few goals for them. I think he had two goals in their last game on Sunday, as well," Sigi Schmid said on a conference call Tuesday. "Luke Mulholland on the right wing-an English player [with three assists this season]. He's gotten a few goals for them, as well."
The non-American talent does not end there. Former EPL, Championship and lower league veteran Carl Cort netted 63 goals in England from '96-'11. He may be out due to injury, but if he's on the field he is a player familiar with the stresses of cup competition. Takuya Yamada plied his trade in the J-League as a defender and midfield. He missed the last Open Cup match to play in a testimonial, but is likely to be reinserted in their XI.
Tampa will be powered by a fairly large crowd at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. Rowdies fans are expected to turn out well beyond their season average (~3700), but their 12th man is also powered by the unique converted baseball stadium that sits right off the water.
"The field is small, it’s only 105 by 70 [yards], it’s a little bit bumpy, so it’s going to be a good concentration for guys to concentrate on their first touch of the ball. We were doing practice today and somebody swung a cross in and it took a little bit of a jump on what would have been home plate and popped up over his foot. It’ll be an interesting game from that standpoint, as well," Schmid noted.
On top of the difficulties caused purely by the Rowdies Schmid and the Sounders will be traveling more than 6700 miles with a maze of air flights and bus trips, Ianni and Alonso are out tonight after receiving red cards in last year's championship game and Joseph can not play against Chivas. Saturday will also be missing US internationals Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans. This will be one of the most complex lineup decisions facing Sigi this year.
Rosales, Traore and Gonzalez went back to Seattle for fitness work with Dave Tenney while Remick, Zavaleta, Ochoa and Rose joined the team down in St. Pete. One would expect that all four are in the 18 with Ochoa and Rose possibly in the XI. Last year Ochoa showed that he can succeed in Open Cup matches with three goals and Rose netted two.
SoundersFC.com will stream the match at 4:30 p.m. with Ross Fletcher on the call in the unique stadium against a reigning champion that could challenge an Adrian Hanauer selected side that has not lost in Open Cup regulation since 2005.