Tonight, the Seattle Sounders face Chivas USA in the semi-final round of the US Open Cup. The Sounders raised their first MLS trophy last year, when they beat DC United 2-1 in the final at RFK Stadium. Provided the Sounders find their way past a poorly-performing Goats team, history has the potential to repeat itself: As I type this, Columbus Crew and DC United are currently facing off in their semi-final, with United winning 1-0 at the half.
In these previews, I typically like to give a few of my thoughts about strategy. About the weaknesses in the opposing side. Even my ideas of who the starting XI might be. But considering last time I confidently announced that I felt Zach Scott would get the start over Taylor Graham, I think we'll leave the musings behind and tell a little story, instead.
We'll travel back in time to July 21, 2009, to a little sports complex known as Starfire. A friend was home for a couple weeks, a major Sounders fan who rarely got to see the lads considering he spends the majority of the year in North Carolina. Rather than work, I chose to peruse Craigslist that morning, searching for tickets to the sold-out Open Cup game. Possibly one of the best decisions I've ever made, as last year's semi-final remains the most exciting soccer match I've seen live.
Most Sounders fans fortunate enough to be in Tukwila that night--official reports say that there were less than five thousand of us--feel as I do. With a team determined to win trophies, even in its inaugural MLS season, that match in July was crucial. Beat Houston, and Seattle were in the final. But at just 32 minutes in, the Dynamo took the lead off a goal by Ade Akinbiy.
That certainly had no effect on the singing, chanting, jumping supporters at Starfire. From the moment Nate Jaqua took an elbow to the head (sometime in the first five minutes, I believe) until the halftime whistle, the stadium was filled with noise. I thought my voice was already going--but before the second half, we moved over to the supporters section, joining two more friends, but trading away our right to remain silent.
From then on, the game is a blur. I remember giving inappropriate suggestions to the referee. I remember screaming at Houston for being dirty cheats (although the record shows 40 fouls and nine yellows, so I'm sure it wasn't just Houston). I remember jumping up and down for twenty minutes, and I remember that my legs started to hurt a lot, and I thought I would really need to get in shape if I wanted a GA season ticket.
But what I most remember is the goal. That glorious, glorious equalizer from Nate Jaqua in the 89th minute. The stadium seemed to pause--to breathe? To make sure it had really happened?--and then a wave of sound flew over everyone before I felt a sharp pain on the top of my head. Two of my friends had hugged me at the same time, but being short as I was, they'd gone over me, more or less embracing one another, and shattering my sunglasses in the process. A worthy sacrifice.
And then came the extra time, but Seattle didn't want to make its fans wait. After just five minutes, a Houston player gifted Seattle the ball, and Stephen King took advantage of the ball at his feet, firing it into the net to give the Sounders the lead. Still, with 25 minutes remain, it wasn't time to give up. Even with sweat pouring off our faces, throats raw, legs sore, the crowd at Starfire was determined to cheer their team into the final.
So tonight the question is, can they do it once more? The game commences at 7:30pm PT. Catch it streaming live on the Sounders website.