Sounders FC returns to U.S. Open Cup competition tonight at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila, where the club has never lost.
However, the stadium has changed in one fundamental way since last season, when the Sounders swept the four U.S. Open Cup games played there. A new FieldTurf surface was installed last month, replacing the weathered artificial pitch that used to drive visiting players and coaches to distraction.
“I think last year we had a home-field advantage from teams coming in and not wanting to play on it,” Sounders defender Tyrone Marshall said Tuesday after training on the new surface for the first time. “It’s more improved this year, and hopefully it plays to our advantage.”
Seattle certainly will have the benefit of a sellout crowd, as the club announced Tuesday that all tickets for this quarterfinal match against the Los Angeles Galaxy have been sold. The stadium’s seating capacity is 2,000.
However, coach Sigi Schmid said the new surface won’t necessarily be a pure advantage, even though Seattle is used to playing on FieldTurf at Qwest Field, while the Galaxy’s home pitch is natural grass.
“(Starfire has) probably the best turf field now in the area,” Schmid said. “It slows the ball down – it’s not nearly as fast as Qwest is. So from that standpoint it’s going to be a little different for us, too.”
Judging from previous results, the Sounders can use any edge they can get. Seattle and Los Angeles have met twice in this Major League Soccer season, and the Galaxy swept with a combined score of 7-1, including a 3-1 result Sunday in Southern California.
“To get a crack at the same team probably has you excited,” Schmid said. “Now, some of the guys are different guys out there. But for sure it’s an opportunity. ... I feel confident that for a player on our team right now, that is a good opportunity.”
The MLS regular season has reached an urgent stage as the Sounders’ third straight league loss has dropped them to 4-8-3 at the midway point.
However, the club has been bulletproof in Open Cup. Seattle swept six games – including four at Starfire – on the way to the championship last season.
And the Sounders opened the defense of their title last week with a win at Portland decided on penalty kicks.
Schmid juggled his usual league lineup considerably for that game. And he implied he will dig down the depth chart again tonight as his club plays its fourth game in 11 days, and with league play resuming Sunday when FC Dallas visits.
“With (Osvaldo) Alonso being out, and (Brad) Evans being out, and (Jhon) Kennedy (Hurtado) being out for the season, (Michael) Fucito is another guy, that hurts our depth a little bit for sure,” he said. “So certain guys are sometimes being asked to play positions that maybe aren’t their best positions.”
Schmid’s options are further limited because defender Taylor Graham must sit out tonight after picking up two yellow cards at Portland.
Schmid said he also is considering whether it’s time to offer a break to goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who has started every Sounders match this season.
“As a goalkeeper, yeah, you’re not physically running up and down the field, but some of the toughest things to do in goal is when you don’t have a lot of action and now you’re called upon to make a big save,” Schmid said. “So the mental concentration and focus is a strain and a stress. It’s like a race-car driver: He’s not exactly running around the track, but it’s a mental strain as well.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer
LOS ANGELES GALAXY AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC, U.S. OPEN CUP
KICKOFF: 7 p.m., Starfire Sports Stadium, Tukwila
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Both teams qualified due to their position in MLS last season. The Sounders advanced by beating Portland on penalty kicks. The Galaxy advanced with a 2-0 win over AC St. Louis.
NOTES: Sounders FC is the defending champion and 7-0 all-time in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play. ... No champion has defended its title in the tournament’s professional era (since 1994); however, five defending champs have returned to the final. The last club to repeat was the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms in 1982 and ‘83. ... The Open Cup was created in 1914 and is the longest-running team tournament championship in the United States. It is open to amateur and professional clubs affiliated with U.S. Soccer. ... The Galaxy swept the two meetings with Seattle this season in MLS play: 4-0 on May 8 at Qwest Field, and 3-1 Sunday at Los Angeles. ... The game is sold out. The Sounders advise fans with tickets to arrive early.
NEXT: If Seattle advances, it will move to an Open Cup semifinal Sept. 1 vs. Chivas USA at Starfire. Chivas USA advanced with a 3-1 victory over the Dynamo in Houston on Tuesday. The Sounders continue MLS play at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, meeting FC Dallas at Qwest Field.
Don Ruiz, staff writer