USOC preview: Rojiblancos looking to surprise
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC vs CHIVAS USA
Starfire Sports Complex, Tukwila, Wash.
July 11, 2012 (US Open Cup Semifinal)
10 pm ET (Live Stream)
Can Seattle make it four straight US Open Cup finals?
On Wednesday night at Starfire Sports Complex, Seattle will take on Chivas USA (10 pm ET, Live Stream) with the opportunity to do just that. Chivas will be looking for their first appearance in the title game, while Seattle are hoping to appear in their fourth straight after winning the last three editions of the tournament.
Can Seattle continue on their quest for a four-peat or will Chivas hand them their first-ever USOC loss at Starfire to make an unlikely appearance in the final?
Few teams have a home-field advantage quite like the one the Seattle Sounders enjoy at Starfire Sports Complex.
The approximately 4,000-seat stadium, located about 12 miles south of Seattle in Tukwila, has proven to be an absolute fortress. The Sounders head into Wednesday’s match carrying a 16-0-1 all-time record in the tournament, largely due to their 11-match winning streak at Starfire where they have outscored opponents 31-5.
“It’s been good for us in Open Cup,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said, in a bit of an understatement. “The atmosphere is intense. I think for the fans to see a game here is always a little different because you’re right on top of the action and you see the pace of the game. You see the intensity. You seem to be a little more engaged in what’s going on in the field.”
Not only are the stands essentially right on top of the action, but the field’s dimensions are also fairly small by MLS standards, measuring just 70 yards wide by 110 yards long.
“It makes the games a little more duel-oriented,” Schmid said. “It becomes a little bit faster. The game becomes a little more, maybe, exciting for the outside people and maybe more nerve-wracking for the coaches because the ball is either in front of your goal or their goal quicker just because of the size of the field. It certainly adds an element of athleticism to the game.”
The latest team to try their luck at Starfire is at least somewhat familiar with it. Although their personnel only bares a slight resemblance now, Chivas USA did face the Sounders in the 2010 Open Cup semifinals, when they fell, 3-1. They also lost to the then-USL Sounders 2-0 in the third round in 2008.
Despite a lackluster 5-7-5 record, this Chivas USA team has allowed fewer goals (18) than all but two MLS teams. A consistent backline — including an All-Star caliber goalkeeper in Dan Kennedy — combined with the Rojiblancos having never won a trophy in their history has the Sounders expecting to have their hands full.
“This becomes very important for them because it’s something they can target as a chance to get into a championship and win a meaningful game,” Schmid said. “The Open Cup experience is one of those things for them. It’s the same as playing a rival: You have to discount what’s going on in the league, you have to discount if they are struggling to score goals. It doesn’t matter, because it’s a one-off game.”
The Sounders have excelled in these kinds of situations and now find themselves with a chance to become the first team since 1937 to advance to four straight Open Cup finals.
The Goats are just one win away from the club’s first-ever USOC final appearance, but standing in the way of their bid to make franchise history are the three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders.
While Seattle have been invincible to date at Starfire – the Sounders have yet to lose a competitive match there since joining MLS in 2009 – Chivas have excelled on the road this season, notching a 3-1-3 record in MLS play and three victories in Open Cup away from the Home Depot Center.
WATCH: Chivas know tough test awaits
To help Chivas in their campaign, the club will be able to call upon one player with extensive experience at Starfire, longtime Seattle Sounder James Riley. The right back was a regular in the Sounders back four for three seasons, making more than 90 appearances in all competitions while the club earned three consecutive Open Cup trophies. In fact, Riley was manning the right-back spot for Seattle the last time Chivas reached the Open Cup semifinals in 2009, helping the Sounders to a 3-1 victory.
With his extensive experience of both teams in hand and four Open Cup trophies under his belt – he won his first USOC title with New England in 2007 – Riley believes the small confines of Starfire can benefit the Rojiblancos.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to knock it around on that field, but it plays small," Riley said of the stadium. "There will be a lot of duels and a lot of second balls and a lot of chances in that game. It’s almost like a hockey atmosphere where it’s a really, really fast-paced game from minute one to 90 ... you’re getting pressure and you don’t have the space that you want in the midfield so there’s always things that happen. I won’t think we’ll have that loll like we had here [last Saturday vs Vancouver].
Fully aware of the rigors that go into winning an Open Cup, Riley trusts that the Rojiblancos have what it takes to reach the final.
“We know it’s a big opportunity to go into Starfire and play the Sounders," he added. "We couldn’t ask for anything else to be honest. We know that we have to go through the champions to get to the final and that’s a great challenge for us.”