Packed into the summer of soccer (isn't every year now?) is the US Open Cup and the Sounders quest for #SE4TTLE. This attempt at history sees a familiar adversary, a team that Seattle has faced and eliminated from the tournament three times. Chivas USA lacks trophies (though not as lacking as say Red Bull) and with a regular season that sees them basically eliminated from contention Wednesday night's game at Starfire will be their most important of 2012.
For the Sounders, they will be in their familiar grounds. In many ways their bench is built for success on the small Tukwila pitch. There may not be a better symbol of how Adrian and Sigi are doing things different than their three-peat in the Open Cup. They use a deep roster, while still rotating in more starters on average than their opponents. Though a secondary tournament, they use the Cup as a path to CONCACAF Champions League play. But this year making history by winning four straight won't be enough, and losing at home in a mere sixth straight semifinal for a Hanauer led team will also be considered failure. In order to travel to Kansas City, or host Philadelphia, the Goats must be beaten. Alicia from The Goat Parade answers our questions previewing that match as well as listing her preferred roster. And while the Goats aren't in a good league position, that preferred roster is one that can't be taken lightly.
SaH: Chivas USA isn't out of the hunt for a playoff spot, but it's starting to seem highly unlikely. Does this raise the importance of the Open Cup to the fans and organization?
tGP: Frankly speaking, I think the need for success period is very much needed around Chivas, no matter which competition. The club has been behind the Open Cup run the whole way this season, and there is a desire for the team to win some silverware and finally get a sustained tradition of winning started. This opportunity seems as good as any. As for the fans, I think there is no real push to get the word out about this competition to casual fans or potential new fans, and situations like the club's refusal to bid or pay opponents to host Open Cup matches (because the revenue potential is slim considering they don't have a stadium of their own) means it isn't necessarily resonating around Southern California. That said, the hardcore fans of the team are behind the Open Cup run and are desperate to get a trophy, among other reasons so the chorus that Chivas is a "failed" franchise that needs to fold can recede.
In the grand scheme of the 2012 season for Chivas, it appears at the moment that the USOC is the best chance for Chivas to win a trophy, the Sounders and a potential finals opponent notwithstanding. Although it will be a tall task, Wednesday's match is absolutely the Goats' biggest game of the season to this point, and the organization, players, and fans want to continue this cup run for as long as they can.
SaH: What can the potential of the JPA/Agudelo partnership mean to the team?
tGP: It has transformed the club, although there's still work to be done. I would also add in a third forward, Jose Correa, who was signed shortly before Chivas traded for Agudelo and got JPA back from injury. The trio has been rotated into the lineup consistently since arriving/recuperating, and they are responsible for six goals and an assist this season, all since the beginning of May. Chivas have only scored seven goals total in the league in that stretch, so you can see the impact of those three, even if the goals haven't been coming as often as most would like. In the Open Cup, their impact has also been significant, as they've combined for four of Chivas' five goals in the tournament this year. Needless to say, all three have been essential in Chivas' run of only one loss in their last 11 matches.
The good news about the JPA/Agudelo/Correa trio is the role that Angel can play for the youngsters. All three were born in Colombia, and Agudelo and Correa have both talked about how well respected Angel is in Colombia, and both youngsters have already discussed the impact of JPA's mentoring in their development as strikers. The good news is that it seems like these three have the quality to continue leading the line for Chivas, but now they need to score goals at an even faster rate for the team to succeed.
SaH: You talked about what James Riley brought to the team on Nos Audietis. Repeat yourself, but with written words. :)
tGP: Riley's been a fantastic addition to Chivas this season. He replaced Zarek Valentin, who was a promising rookie in 2011. At the time of the Expansion Draft, when Chivas left Valentin unprotected and he was promptly picked up by Montreal, it appeared that Chivas' front office made another blunder in a short history packed full of them. In fact, letting Valentin (and his high salary) go and trading fan favorite Justin Braun away for Riley was a fantastic decision. Riley defends better than Valentin, and his speed is a necessary component to Chivas' defense. He also pushes up well and is great at overlapping runs, and he provides a balance of sorts in attack with left back Ante Jazic, who does not make the same kind of runs but who does get involved in the attack. In contrast, as a rookie learning the professional game last season, Valentin never got involved in the attack, and defenses never had to worry about him as a threat. Riley's experience of MLS was also helpful this season, as Chivas have almost completely overhauled their backline, and bringing in Riley and Danny Califf has been great for shoring up the defense and making the transition relatively seamless. In short, Riley's been a great addition to the team, and we hope he can continue his personal Open Cup winning streak Wednesday!
SaH: What lineup would you use if you were in charge?
tGP: If I was in charge...
GK: Dan Kennedy
DF: James Riley, Danny Califf, Rauwshan McKenzie, Ante Jazic
MF: Ben Zemanski, Nick LaBrocca, Oswaldo Minda, Ryan Smith
FW: Juan Pablo Angel, Jose Correa
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tGP: What are the attitudes surrounding the Open Cup this year for the Sounders? I know there's the push for Se4ttle, but do you sense that it isn't as big of a deal anymore? Or is the team and fanbase as motivated as ever?
SaH: Players and coaches want it. The type of fans that read blogs like this want it. But they also want more than the Open Cup. They could win SE4TTLE, but miss the Playoffs and this year would be a failure in many people's minds. To use a non-soccer reference it would be like UCLA winning Pac-10/12 titles but not going on a deep run in the tournament. The Sounders set their own bar and now they need to pass it.
tGP: Seattle finally broke their winless streak in the league Saturday. Do you think there will be positive momentum heading into Wednesday's match, or are the competitions essentially being treated as separate entities?
SaH: During their winless streak they crushed the Atlanta Silverbacks and Cal FC while edging the San Jose Earthquakes in a game that was heavily in the Goonies favor. The poor MLS play never effected Open Cup play, nor did good play in the Cup trickle into the league. Oddly, most of the players used in the Cup were regulars. A lot of that may just have to do with how Seattle plays on smaller pitches (Starfire, Kezar, Jeld-WEN). They're just a better team in those circumstances. Much of the Open Cup success has to be due to how the Sounders play in the unique stadium that is Starfire.
tGP: What's the goalkeeper situation heading into the game? How has the projected starter been playing?
SaH: Bryan Meredith, who started the season as one of three guys competing for the backup job, will probably start. Due to injuries to three other keepers he's won the starting job for two series of games in 2012. He's not the best shot-stopper, nor the best at commanding the line. His strength likely lies in his distribution and wingspan. He's good enough to not be the reason that a team loses, but he's not a Keller or Michael Gspurning who are good enough to be the reason that the Sounders win.
tGP: Prediction for the match?
SaH: 4-1. Fredy Montero will prove that his getting left out the starting lineup against Colorado was a mistake with a brace and an assist.