Those who can’t get enough of the Seattle-Portland soccer rivalry struck gold this week.
On Thursday, the U.S. Open Cup fourth-round draw paired the Major League Soccer Sounders and Timbers in a 7:30 p.m. match on June 16 at Starfire Sports Stadium.
Earlier in the week, the Sounders 2 and Timbers 2 USL teams played their way into a third-round showdown scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday, also at Starfire.
Meanwhile by quirk of scheduling, S2 and T2 also will meet Friday in a regular-season USL match at Portland.
The winner of the S2-T2 Open Cup meeting will advance to a fourth-round match at Real Salt Lake. Fourteen other MLS teams will enter the tournament with a similar geographical pairing against a third-round winner from a lower division. However, because there are 17 MLS teams in this tournament, two were paired to complete the bracket, and those happened to be Portland and defending champion Seattle.
Guiding two teams through the Open Cup is new for the Sounders and Timbers organizations, which are fielding USL teams for the first time. And it raises certain challenges. For one, Open Cup rules say that once a player is on the 18-man game-day roster for one team, he is tied to that team exclusively for the entire tournament.
Sounders FC played it cautiously this week, keeping Sounders reserve goalkeeper Troy Perkins and usual S2 starting keeper Charlie Lyon out of the S2-Kitsap second-round match, and therefore eligible for either team in later rounds.
Such homegrown Sounders as forward Victor Mansaray and 2014 first-round draft pick defender Damion Lowe played with S2 in its 4-2 win over the Pumas, and therefore must play out this Open Cup with S2.
“We can’t play everybody with us,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “… So we figured that for (Mansaray) to be able to get three games in with S2 would be better with S2 for his development, so that was the reason we let him continue to play there.”
Schmid believes the benefits were on full display in the intensely competitive Wednesday match. S2 jumped to a 2-0 lead before Kitsap rallied for a pair of goals to force extra time, where S2 delivered the decisive goals.
“The competition, the meaningfulness of the games, that’s great,” Schmid said. “For a player like Damion Lowe who really, because of his injuries last year, has gone a year-plus without playing games. For him to be constantly be put into meaningful games is going to just accelerate his development. It’s important for a player like Victor, as well. Those games are at a higher level than playing in the academy league.”
Some of the interest in the S2-Kitsap match was reflected in complaints from fans that the game was not available in any form of broadcast, including the streaming that is standard for S2’s USL games.
Sounders FC owner Adrian Hanauer said Thursday that was an error, and that all future Open Cup games will be streamed.
“Screw up. My decision,” he said. “… (We) decided on this Open Cup game maybe not to spend the money, because it’s not insignificant to do a quality stream. In retrospect, we heard people loud and clear that they would have liked to have that game on, and probably should have done it. So we will (stream) going forward. Problem solved.”