As early as 6:30 PM Seattle Sounders FC could qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League by winning their fourth Lamar Hunt US Open Cup trophy. All that stands in the way are the Bethlehem Steel FC clad Philadelphia Union. The Union are led by former Sounder Sebastien LeToux, the man with more goals in the modern era of the US Open Cup than any other. Seattle has their own Open Cup glory hound, Kenny Cooper. Cooper has six goals in this year's Cup.
GolTV has the match, so you may need help finding a place to watch the match. Sounder at Heart will be out at Spitfire in Belltown. The game starts at 4:30 PM with usual traffic and parking caveats for an event in Seattle. There will be some of the last round of scarves if that's your thing.
Eugene from the Brotherly Game answers Four Questions to help you prepare for Tuesday's Cup Final. One of them is about Bethlehem Steel, because you may be wondering why Philly is wearing a uniform for a team not from Philly.
SaH: Seba is having a little revival. What's he doing differently this year? What about in the Open Cup?
tBG: Sebastien Le Toux has been one the the Union's best players this season. His hustle and work ethic are legendary, and it seems to be contagious this season. I don't know if it's that he's necessarily doing anything different this season, it's just that he's being used better by Jim Curtin than he was by John Hackworth. Hack liked to tinker with lineups and shuffle players around, so often Seba wound up playing on the wing, which is a position he's serviceable at, but not great at like he is as a false nine. Curtin has put him as that second striker behind Conor Casey, and it has paid dividends. And the guy is an Open Cup legend. I don't know what it is about the competition, but he seems to up his game during these tournaments. Holding the US Open Cup modern age record for goals is just icing on the cake.
SaH: What type of coach is Curtain and why are Union brass still looking for his replacement?
tBG: I like Jim Curtin. He has come in and turned an absolute mess into the team we Philadelphia Union fans were hoping to see at the start of the season. I think the players respect a guy who spent eight years in MLS. He knows what it takes to win in this league - and more importantly what it takes to bounce back from a loss. As far as why the Union are still looking for a replacement, I think part of it has to do with how wrong the John Hackworth experiment went. On the surface it's the same situation - untested assistant coach takes over for unpopular manager and puts together a good run of form. But dig a little deeper, and you see that's where the similarities end. Hackworth never played in MLS. Hackworth won five of his first eight but finished the 2012 season 8-11-4 in MLS play. Curtin has gone 6-2-4 and has the club on the verge of their first piece of silverware.
That being said, I am hopeful that Curtin will remain as the guy who manages the club and that the club will hire not only a cadre of coaches - currently the technical staff consists of Curtin, Assistant Coach Mike Sorber, Technical Director and Assistant Coach Chris Albright, and the training staff (Paul Rushing and Kevin Miller) - but also a GM who will work with Curtin and the coaching staff to handle player acquisitions and the overall direction of the club. I'm not entirely sold on any of the names that have been bandied about - Rene Meulensteen, David Moyes, Jesse Marsch, John Harkes, etc. - so we'll just have to wait and see who's calling the shots in March of 2015.
SaH: Philly rested some key players in the weekend league match. Is that an indication that it is Cup or bust this year?
tBG: I don't know about "Cup or bust". Certainly the Union are doing all they can to win on Tuesday, but I think the team also has legitimate playoff aspirations. Eight points is all that separates fourth place New York Red Bulls and ninth place Chicago Fire. The Union are currently tied for fifth place, but would miss the playoffs to the Columbus Crew on goal differential. And even if the Union fail to win the Cup or make the playoffs, coming back from 3-5-6 to be in this position is a most remarkable accomplishment. It's something the club can be proud of and something to build on for the future.
SaH: Do the Union have any connections to Bethlehem Steel?
tBG: I don't believe there's any direct connection, however the Union have always realized they're part of a very rich history and tradition of soccer in this area. Bethlehem is roughly 75 miles from PPL Park where the Union play, so while there are a few fans that make the trek from that area it's not very close. Still, the Union has done well to keep the memory of Bethlehem Steel F.C. alive. I would expect them to do the same with some of the other clubs that have played here - the Philadelphia Ukrainians also won four National Challenge Cups (precursor to the US Open Cup), the Uhrik Truckers won the Cup in 1935-36, the Philadelphia Atoms won the NASL in 1973, the Philadelphia Fury competed in the NASL, and there have been teams in Delaware and South Jersey as well. I am glad to see the Union take their place in the history of soccer here as opposed to ignoring it and putting it out there as the only history.
Projected lineup: MacMath; Williams,Valdes, Edu, Gaddis; Okugo, Maidana, Nogueira, Cruz; Le Toux, Casey
tBG: What has changed with the Sounders since the teams last met back on May 3?
SaH: A few personnel things are different. Remick and Traore have both been in and out of injury and are unlikely to start. Pineda may be getting pushed out of the starting lineup by Andy Rose. More significant than the changes in players is how Seattle is playing. Back then Seattle's only hope was outscoring the opposition. They only had two shutouts in the eight matches prior to the May 3rd game. While now they have three shutouts in their last eight, the club is a bit more confident in their defensive abilities. There aren't the clearly exploitable gaps when Yedlin charges forward. The space behind Alonso isn't a gaping shot generating dimensional hole. The offense is basically what it was - potent.
tBG: Seattle's last US Open Cup win away from home was in 2012 against San Jose, and the last US Open Cup win on the East Coast was when they beat D.C. United at RFK Stadium. How confident are you that Seattle can come out and return with the trophy?
SaH: Regular reader and away supporter @bmvaughn: You can look at the past six years of Open Cup history for the Sounders and see an away form that is quite good (3-1-2 IIRC); although the 2012 final still stings for many fans, our sole away loss in the MLS era was to Tampa last year. That loss featured one - maybe two - starters and we saw Obafemi Martins come off the bench in 81' minute as we shifted to a quasi 3-3-4 (by natural positions) to attempt an equalizer. It wasn't meant to be; the patchwork reserve team didn't know how to connect.
But why focus on our USOC away form? The team that won the Cup at RFK is no more. The team that draw-lost at Sporting Park in 2012 won't appear - though we may still see Scott, Alonso, Rose, and Evans. The team you'll see on Tuesday will be as strong as any MLS fixture this season. This Sounders team has the 3rd best road goal differential in the League (+2) against the Union's middle-of-the-road home goal differential of +4 (tied for 11th). Make no mistake, this will play as a league match. It will feature the Sounders top lineup perhaps minus one or two key players (Rose instead of Pineda given current form).
How confident am I we'll return with the trophy? I'm confident we'll put out a top team that will only have themselves to blame if they don't come away with silverware after 90 minutes (please not 120 though.. we want to leave SOME time for partying after the match).
tBG: It didn't appear that Seattle rested many of their regular starters on Friday against Real Salt Lake. What kind of effect will that have on them when they play a mere four days later?
SaH: Tuesday's match is almost certainly going to feature a first choice lineup. Sounders FC is just coming off of a nine-day break. During that break Dempsey took complete time away from the game (Yedlin had an extra day too). The biggest questions about fitness rather than health are at left back where Leo Gonzalez probably starts anyway and with Alonso's partner in midfield. Pineda is a bit older and Rose is very hot. Outside of that, everything should be exactly what you expect.
tBG: Since these teams don't play each other very often, what can you tell the Union fans about the Seattle Sounders? (Feel free to be as specific or as general as you'd like).
SaH: The quick guide to Seattle is simple - pace and hydra.
Sounders FC play at a rapid tempo. They try to push the action from defense to attack as quickly as possible, while jamming it right down the middle of the pitch. It reduces the value of a single goal, because more goals are scored in Sounders games.
Hail Hydra: Dempsey and Martins get all the attention, but there's some serious scoring depth here. Kenny Cooper is Open Cup gold. Chad Barrett is looking like the player everyone thought he should be. Lamar Neagle has six goals. Pappa, Pineda and Rose all have three goals. That's a lot of firepower.
Predicted lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Scott, Marshall, Yedlin; Neagle, Rose, Alonso, Evans; Dempsey, Martins
Predicted score: 3-1 and a fourth Open Cup