Sounders Set To Defend Title

Winners of the 2009 US Open Cup, the Sounders play their first game in the 2010 tournament against the rival Portland Timbers.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In 2009 the Sounders FC went on a terrific run through the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

Along the way, they bested their I-5 rivals in Portland, squeaked out a last-minute victory over Kansas City, took Houston to overtime before dispatching of them and travelled across the country to oust DC United to win the first trophy in club history.

Wednesday night, the Sounders FC return to PGE Park in Portland for a rematch with the Portland Timbers as Seattle begins defense of the US Open Cup crown.

“It’s something that a lot of teams take pride in and we did it last year every time we were stepping out on the field,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “Our intention is to play the team that is going to give us the best chance to win the game tomorrow and make sure we’re ready because we want to defend our championship.”

The Sounders FC are not expected to field the same lineup that took the field Sunday in a league match against the Philadelphia Union, nor the same starting 11 that will face the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on July 4.  However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking the tournament seriously.  Last year against Portland, Schmid fielded four regular starters, including Kasey Keller, and it was Roger Levesque who got the Sounders out to a fast start with a goal within the first minute of play on their way to a 2-1 victory.

They came out flying, but we were able to play pretty well and get a couple of early ones,” said Nate Jaqua, who assisted Seattle’s second goal in the win. “Then we were able to finish it off.”

Throughout his career with the Sounders in the USL and MLS, Levesque has been a nuisance to the Timbers and their fans, notching 10 goals and three assists against Portland.

That intense play from Levesque has come to characterize the emotions of a heated rivalry that dates back to the 1970s and the North American Soccer League and will only be raised in coming years when the Timbers join the Sounders FC in Major League Soccer.

“I think it runs a lot deeper than we even realize – even the USL guys who have been around for six or seven years,” Levesque said. “With them coming to the MLS next year, I think that adds another level of intensity to the rivalry.”

Though he is new to the northwest scene and the rivalry between Seattle and Portland, Schmid has no doubt where the rivalry will end up. He has seen firsthand the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA’s cross-town rivalry. Seattle and Portland, he says, has that derby beat.

“This is going to be one of the premier games next year in the league,” Schmid said. “They can talk about the Clasico in LA, but I don’t think it’s going to compare to what’s going on here.”

First things first though, as the Sounders and Timbers meet tonight in what is sure to be a raucous environment at PGE Park. For Seattle, it’s the first step toward repeating as Open Cup champs.

It starts with that first game. We have the fight and intensity and willingness to fight for each other. That’s the most important thing for us right now,” Levesque said.

Added Jaqua, “It was a good tournament for us last year. It was fun. Anytime you can win a trophy, it’s great. We want to be right back there.”

The winner of the match Wednesday night will face the LA Galaxy next week after the Galaxy topped AC St. Louis 2-0 on Tuesday night.  If they advance, Seattle would host the Galaxy at Starfire on Wednesday, July 7.

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