June began and ended with away wins in the Eastern Conference, but was defined by the World Cup. Nervous anticipation preceded the opening ceremonies in Brazil. Two Sounders were abroad but the story was unwritten. How could we know one would come back a bloodied but accomplished captain and the other engulfed in the buzz of a young worldwide commodity?
Meanwhile, there was important business at home for a club that takes all trophies seriously. Upstarts PSA Elite came to test themselves against the best at Starfire, and were soundly dispatched. Then, in a Battle-of-Kezar-esque stalemate, fans were forced to endure 120 minutes of the Earthquake interlopers in Tukwila. Marcus Hahnemann-ed the net, and the results (and the celebration) were legendary.
But this was merely part of the Oba World Cup, an invitational tournament comprising whatever teams came before the man snubbed from the world stage. Martins seemed to take the responsibility for the Sounders fates on his back while his fellow star striker was away in a stretch that would see his club team take six wins from seven games across competitions during the actual World Cup. June saw nothing but victory for Obafemi and his team.
This was June:
League Play: 3-2 victory at Chicago Fire, Saturday June 7th - Highlights
Obafemi Martins wasted no time in the OWC establishing himself as the most talked-about player. This game had red cards, controversy, missed sitters, two Obagoals and a Neagoal. Though playing away, Seattle could not be stopped in the last league match before the World Cup pause.
I defer to Dave Clark in describing this match:
From the earliest moments of the game it was obvious what Frank Yallop's side wanted to do to slow down Seattle Sounders FC. They would foul and foul hard. They would count on Harrison Shipp. In many ways that tactic worked. They slowed down the Rave Green and Harrison scored twice. In a very important way that failed. Slow Seattle scored three goals.
Pineda and Evans shine before Oba strikes first in his own tournament. Hurtado fouls in the box for the first red card and an Oba penalty. Shipp scores a fantastic goal. Oba is sent off for reasons. Frei's face comes up huge. Neagle with the patience to place an unstoppable volley. Hahnemann with the shoe shine.
World Cup: 2-1 Victory. USA vs. Ghana, Monday, June 16th
All the buildup, expectation and pressure would break on this day. Of course it was Ghana. The curse had to be shaken from the USA if they had any hope of escaping the group of death. A loss or tie would have been seen as a disaster, a death knell. Proof for the Klinsmann doubters.
Instead, Clint Dempsey showed why he is Captain America. He set the tone, leaving no doubt how the US was going to play this match. As if granted the premonition that the opposing goalkeeper would one day soon be a Timber, Clint wove his way to the spot he wanted at the top of the 6 yard box and left Adam Kwarasey on his backside looking over his shoulder at the ball in the net. 34 seconds.
Two more events changed the game and USA's World Cup fate. Jozy Altidore's hamstring gave out at the worst possible moment for him and the squad. Then Dempsey took an awful blow to the face. He didn't let it stop him for long, but it's a sight we'll never forget.
Still, the US survived the Ghana equalizer and nabbed victory with the set piece goal that set US fans afire. Hope was still alive.
US Open Cup: 5-0 victory. PSA Elite at Starfire, Wednesday June 18th - Highlights
Upsets happen. But they don't happen at Starfire. PSA Elite entered the match excited to show off their talent, and these were certainly not bad players. But they were no match for a Sounders team destined to win the tournament they began that Wednesday. The Sounders outshot PSA 21-1.
Scoring Summary: SEA - Brad Evans (penalty) 23' SEA - Zach Scott (Aaron Kovar) 39' SEA - Kenny Cooper (David Estrada) 45' SEA - Kenny Cooper 56' SEA - Sean Okoli (Chad Barrett) 84'
Onto the next.
World Cup: 2-2 Draw. USA vs. Portugal, Sunday June 22nd
Such an exciting match. What many thought was impossible almost happened and then didn't happen. Dempsey, playing through what must have been great discomfort, battled on until he was again injured and couldn't continue. DeAndre Yedlin entered the match on the wing, streaked and slashed up the field, sent in crosses, and caught the world's eye. Though many would have taken a draw at the outset of the match if they could have, in the end the 95th-minute Portugal goal was heartbreak.
Jermaine Jones absolutely ripped the earlier equalizer. Yedlin's cross eventually led to Dempsey scoring with a pelvic thrust. By whatever means necessary, the US was still alive with a good chance.
US Open Cup: Victory 1(4)-(1)1. San Jose Earthquakes at Starfire - Highlights
The floppy-haired man known as Steven Lenhart opened the scoring with a cracker (or as Ross Fletcher would say on the call, a "Howeetzer").
The physical, sometimes ugly match continued, but what else could be expected given these two teams and their Open Cup history?
Kenny Cooper showed why he would be the Player of the Tournament, responding with a "Howeetzer" of his own from close range.
Chad Barrett and Lamar Neagle each had multiple tantalizingly close chances saved by either the very good play of San Jose keeper David Bingham or by the woodwork.
In the end, the 120 minutes of play were exciting but frustrating. The Sounders wanted to win in the run of play -- knew they could have.
Then Marcus Hahnemann did what Marcus Hahnemann has always done. Stood tall in goal, used mind control to push one kick off the post, and caught the next to his chest. The Sounders spot kickers did their jobs coolly and with confidence.
The quest for the first piece of 2014 silverware was very much alive.
Then this happened:
World Cup: 0-1 Loss. USA vs. Germany, Thursday June 26th
The USA did its job. Dempsey struggled but played his role gamely. Yedlin shone, and created danger. Once again, Dave puts it best:
Months ago this looked like a Group where the USA was destined to fail to advance. The "best chance" wasn't good and it involved beating Ghana, drawing Portugal and a narrow loss to Germany. They did just that. They also showed that they are capable of a tiny bit more than that. This was a side capable of winning a Group of Death. A side stacked with MLS talent held its own against three nations with players in the best leagues and the best teams in the world.
The USMNT and Klinsmann had done what so many said they could not. Despite hardships, injuries, and skilled opponents, they earned the right to call themselves one of the best 16 teams in the tournament. It was a proud moment.
League Play: 1-0 victory at DC United, Saturday June 28th - Highlights
As the national team toiled away in their campaign in Brazil, the Sounders had been taking care of business in the open cup and enjoying a reprieve from extending their Supporters'-Shield-leading record. But it was time to get back on the campaign, and none other than Eddie Johnson and DC United stood in the way.
Exhaustion after 120 midweek minutes was a factor, but Seattle's rotational players and depth were up to the task. Pineda's perfect service and Barrett's contested, cushioned header would win the day in a tight match, but it's worth noting that this may have been Jalil Anibaba's best defensive performance as a Sounder center back. EJ was frustrated and shut out, unable to earn his current team a result against his former team at home.
Coming up in July....
The World Cup concludes, Cascadia action explodes.