The Sounders and Real Salt Lake meet tonight in a play-in game for the U.S. Open Cup (7 p.m., Starfire, sold out, no local broadcast). Or is it just that a bunch of reserves in Sounders and RSL kits?
I love US Open Cup -- the whole idea of opening the tournament to all levels of the sport is just one of the great things about soccer. However, the US Open Cup is no FA Cup. Especially for MLS teams, who have little to gain lots to lose.
So -- as longtime fans of the USL Sounders know -- not all MLS teams play like they care much about winning.
During the preseason, I had heard that Sounders FC might be an exception. As an expansion team, thoughts of winning the Supporters Shield or MLS Cup or Champions League all seemed overly ambitious. But US Open Cup might in within reach of an MLS team that really wanted to win something for the trophy case.
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Then came that 3-0 start and the current 4-2 record, and suddenly Supporters Shield and MLS Cup began seeming within reach. And that's the backdrop against which Sigi Schmid will fill out his lineup card tonight. And that's a little of what I tried to capture in my News Tribune story this morning.
Of course, Real Salt Lake faces the same decision. A story this morning inthe Salt Lake Tribune, seems to indicate that RSL really wants to advance. However, the morning coverage in the Deseret News seems a little more skeptical.
I'll leave the last word to three guys I interviewed this week from three levels of the Sounders organization:
ADRIAN HANAUER: (who is seeing the USOC from the MLS side for the first time after years with the USL point of view): "Organizationally, we want to win every game we play. We want to win every time we step out on the field. If we happen to play some guys who aren't necessarily starters, it doesn't mean that we don't want to win the game and we're not trying to win equally hard to win the game. At the same time, we've got multiple competitions that we have to balance and sometimes if you don't play the starters, it doesn't mean that you're trying less to win. It means that you're trying to keep their bodies healthy for future games, maybe even future Open Cup games."
On whether the fast start changes anything: "I think organizationally I couldn't say that there's been a shift, and personally my opinion hasn't changed. From Day One, I thought our team could be competitive in MLS. I didn't know what that meant, whether that meant playoffs, a playoffs championship, other trophies, and Open Cup. But being 3-2 doesn't change the fact that I still think it would be fantastic to go out and win the Open Cup."
SIGI SCHMID: "I think U.S. Open Cup is good. It doesn't have the respect of the intrigue that, say, the F.A. Cup does in England. But it's certainly on old competition. Even an old guy like me has played in the Open Cup way back when. It's something that I wish would get some more value over a period of time. I wish that it would find its niche in the schedule – and I know we've talked about that often as a league, as to what's the best way to find a niche in the schedule. It is what it is right now, and like I said, it's going to be a mixed team. It's going to be an opportunity for some guys who are coming back off injury. It's going to be an opportunity for some guys who haven't played as much and some other guys to play also."
GK CHRIS EYLANDER (an Open Cup star last season as a USL Sounder and the likely starter tonight as an MLS Sounder:)"It's definitely exciting. We aren't looking at it (as a distraction). These games are an opportunity for some player to play where they wouldn't notmally have inside the normal MLS regular season games. Our goal is to be champions."