There was a funny moment the other day during a conversation with Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey. Someone had asked him about “The Red Card Wedding” and he sort of laughed, pointing out that he and his wife had only recently caught up on Game of Thrones. He had always understood the reference in a broad sense — that it was referring to something awful that people recognized in pop culture — but he came away appreciating it at a different level.
Lagerwey noted that what made the original Red Wedding so powerful wasn’t just that a bunch of key characters were killed off. It was that the whole Stark family — and even The North in a more general sense — was thrown into utter chaos. The head of the family, the matriarch and most of the top lieutenants were all dead. The North had effectively ceased to exist as anything like a rival to King’s Landing.
We obviously didn’t fully understand it when we gave that game the name, but Lagerwey observed that the Sounders, too, were thrown into some level of chaos. They had lost Obafemi Martins for a couple months, Clint Dempsey for at least a few more games and had generally taken a blow to their psyche. In some sense, the damage took nearly a full year to recover from.
During Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup rematch, we had some fun with the idea that it was the Sounders’ chance to avenge that loss. In reality, though, there was no way that was going to happen. For one, I’m not entirely sure the Red Card Wedding is really something to be “avenged” in the first place. Whatever long-term damage was done to the Sounders that night, it wasn’t the fault of the Timbers. Sure, the tension in the game played a part, and Maxi Urruti’s celebration after the third goal was a sort of twisting of the knife. But there was no Walder Frey or Roose Bolton equivalent upon whom we could swear revenge.
Even if there had been a real villain wearing forest green that night, there was no way to inflict them with anything like the pain the Sounders suffered. It certainly wasn’t going to happen in a match featuring reserves and USL call-ups.
Realistically, I’m not entirely sure the Red Card Wedding even needs avenging. We’ll continue to have fun with that theme, but the event was what it was, something to be remembered and maybe even honored. The Sounders have clearly recovered from the mess that was made that day. If there was some sort of revenge to be had, maybe it was winning last year’s MLS Cup.
The kids are all right
There weren’t too many grand takeaways to be had from a game featuring two sides made up mostly of USL players. That said, I think we saw that the Sounders have some promising players coming through the system.
Nouhou is probably the player who stood out the most, not because he had such an amazing game, but because his skillset was allowed to truly shine. Facing players closer to his age, the left back was able to showcase his speed and even some clever passing in ways we don’t get to see as much at the MLS level. His assist to Aaron Kovar to open the scoring was probably the best we saw, but there were lots of other moments where he overlapped and generally helped provide some danger on the left side, even if his passing was a bit too erratic on the whole.
Similarly, I liked what I saw from the center back tandem of Sam Rogers and Rodrigue Ele. Neither are hulking presences at this point, but they both showed some strong on-ball skills and passing. That they are 18 and 19, respectively, suggests they still have some growing to do. If they continue to progress the skills they already have, while also bulking a bit, we could be seeing a lot of them in the years to come.
More broadly, I’m not sure there was anyone I was actually discouraged about. Sure, the Timbers had all the tactical discipline of a high school soccer team and didn’t seem to have much of a plan aside from throwing around their bodies, but I came away feeling better about how the development players are doing at S2 than I do from most USL games.
Is this the future of the Open Cup?
It was only a couple years ago when the Sounders took this tournament seriously enough that they rolled out a lineup that wouldn’t have looked out of place at any point in the regular season. The Red Card Wedding game featured regular starers at four positions, and Oniel Fisher was the only Sounders without a previous MLS start to even appear in the game.
Of course, that’s also what exposed them to the season-altering events that eventually transpired.
Even last year, though, there were numerous veterans starting in all three of the Sounders’ games.
What we saw against the Timbers was entirely different. Jordy Delem was the only player with more than a single MLS start this year and six of the starters were S2 players on short-term contracts.
For better or worse, I suspect this is how it will be for the foreseeable future, at least in the early rounds. I’m actually OK with that.
With the USL team currently barred from the competition, this is a great chance for the first team coaching staff to get a closer look at those players. It’s also a good opportunity to see how they perform when mixed in with a few talented but young players on the lower end of the Sounders’ roster.
Sure, the game lacked anything like the tension that we saw the four previous times the Sounders and Timbers met in the Open Cup, but we get plenty of that in the regular season.
This is a deeply flawed, if still interesting, tournament. As much as I’d like to see the Sounders claim a fifth trophy — tying the all-time record — they don’t owe it to anyone to risk their season trying to advance.
You’ll be missed, Flaco
Contrary to reports, Alvaro Fernandez was not only made available for this game but actually played. He didn’t do much aside from helping the Sounders see out the result. Still, it was fun to be able give him an intimate send-off if this was, indeed, his final game as a Sounder.
Quote of the day
“Ultimately, unless you win all five games and win the Cup it doesn't help you to advance.” - Caleb Porter (never stop being you)
Stat of the day
89 — The Sounders have won 89 percent of their U.S. Open Cup matches during the MLS era, going 23-3-4 in that time. They also improved to 19-1-1 at home.