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Two steps from a final, Sounders vow to take Open Cup ‘seriously’

Schmetzer says roster will include more first-team regulars than previous round.

Last Updated
3 min read

TUKWILA, Wash. — One of the universal challenges of competing in the U.S. Open Cup is coaches having to balance various realities when selecting a starting lineup. No MLS team considers the Open Cup to be their literal top priority, and especially in the earlier stages they tend to overtly favor regular-season matches.

For the Seattle Sounders, their Round of 16 match against Phoenix Rising comes amidst a stretch of season in which they’ll play 10 matches over the course of 33 days, which includes five straight weeks of midweek matches. Compounding that fixture congestion is a host of injuries to players up and down the depth chart.

Still, head coach Brian Schmetzer insisted that his lineup selection on Wednesday will feature several regular starters and reflect a more serious approach to the tournament.

“There’s a lot of give and take, a lot of discussion around this whole stretch,” Schmetzer told reporters following Tuesday’s training session at Starfire Stadium. “You win this game, you’re two games away from a final.

“We’ll have more of a presence on the bench, even starters … maybe a couple of starters that will surprise some people. We’re going to take this seriously. Are we a little light at certain positions? Yes. We have two league matches coming up, it’s not easy. But I’m going to pick guys who can play in multiple games, guys who need to be out here for us to go further in Open Cup and hope nothing bad happens and we can field good teams for the league games.”

This will be the Sounders’ eighth match in 25 days. They’ll close out the busy stretch with a road match against St. Louis City on Saturday and then a home game against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday before a bye on the weekend that had originally been slated for a road match against the Columbus Crew, which had to be rescheduled for the Concacaf Champions Cup final.

While Schmetzer has always insisted that he takes the Open Cup seriously, he did acknowledge that his lineup decisions have fairly called that commitment into question. Among the factors that slightly tipped the scales toward taking more of a chance was seeing a team like LAFC roll out an Open Cup starting lineup that included Designated Players Denís Bouanga and Eduard Atuesta for a road match against the Las Vegas Lights.

“It’s pressure,” Schmetzer said. “I say I take it seriously, but then what do I put out there? It is a balancing act.”

Let Georgi cook

One of the likely starters against Phoenix is Tacoma Defiance midfielder Georgi Minoungou, who is expected to be called up on a short-term loan. Minoungou had an assist in the previous Open Cup game and followed that up with a strong performance against Real Salt Lake in league play. While Schmetzer often expresses a desire to tamp down expectations on young players, he said the challenge is a little different with Minoungou.

“I’m trying to get him to express who he is because he is exciting,” Schmetzer said. “The knock on Georgi is his final product. He gets into really good positions, but then the game needs to slow down so he can make that final decision. The kid is exciting to watch, we’re trying to magnify that times 10.”

Availability update

  • One of the regular starters who will almost certainly be available is Nouhou, who is suspended for the St. Louis City match after picking up a red card against the Whitecaps.
  • Reed Baker-Whiting, who enjoyed a bit of a breakout performance in last year’s Open Cup, will also likely be available off the bench. He has now appeared in three matches — two with the Sounders — since returning from a nearly six-month injury absence.
  • Schmetzer confirmed that Josh Atencio won’t be available and likely won’t be back until the Real Salt Lake match next Wednesday. Atencio has missed the Sounders’ last three games since leaving the previous Open Cup match with a hamstring injury.