Ever since the Sounders FC joined Major League Soccer in 2009, they have been a record-breaking, standard-setting franchise.
Each season, they have broken the single-season attendance record in MLS play. They are the first team to reach the playoffs in each of their first three seasons.
On Tuesday night at CenturyLink Field, they also became the first MLS franchise and first team in 42 years to win three consecutive Lamar Hunt US Open Cup trophies.
“The thing, among others, that I love about Sigi is that he talks about becoming the first,” owner/GM Adrian Hanauer said amidst falling confetti on the Xbox Pitch after the match. “The first team to beat a team in their new stadium. This is another one of those accomplishments. No MLS team has done it and we’d like to make it a fourth next year.”
Winning the US Open Cup is no mere matter of a team finding its form at the right time. For MLS teams, the tournament spreads from June-to-October, or in the case of teams playing play-in games April-to-October.
That means they have to find that intensity, drive and will to win over long stretches of time.
Teams have to stay healthy. They have to find their form. It can often be a sheer battle of wills.
“It’s tough, it’s tough. You need a little bit of luck, you need some breaks to go your way along the way,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We had some games when you look at the string of games and the series of games and you look at the penalty kicks in Portland (in 2010) and you look at the overtime goal that we got (against Houston in 2009) at Starfire. So you need a break or two along the way, but that’s what you’re looking for and then a good team can take that break and be able to use it.”
The heroes have been different along the way, but the story has always ended the same. In 2009, Kasey Keller won the Player of the Tournament award after allowing just three goals in four matches in the tournament. In 2010, Nate Jaqua didn’t score an MLS goal, but did get Player of the Tournament honors for his five goals to lead the Sounders to their second straight title.
This year, Fredy Montero scored three game-winning goals in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals and Mike Fucito added a solid two-goal performance in their first match, a 2-1 win over the Kitsap Pumas. Keller also recorded shutouts in his two matches, the semifinal and final of the tournament.
All told, 25 players saw the field for the Sounders in their four matches in this year’s Open Cup.
“Obviously we’re very pleased to win three in a row,” Schmid said. “I just can’t say enough about the guys over there. To win three in a row is something very special and very unique. It hasn’t been done in a long time. Like we said, every time we enter a competition we want to win it, so we’ll enter it next year and we’ll want to win it next year as well.”
However, the club is not merely content with the Open Cup titles. Now that the Cup has been lifted, they turn their attention to their big goal this season – fighting for the Supporters’ Shield and winning the MLS Cup.
They do so with a steady stream of momentum from the Open Cup victory.
“We ride the high now and we still have a chance at the Supporters’ Shield,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “Now we turn our attention to this week and it’s a huge game.”
The Sounders will face the Philadelphia Union on Saturday with a chance to pull within four points of the LA Galaxy with still two matches left on the schedule. While it may be a lofty goal to pass the Galaxy for the Supporters’ Shield, the club is gearing up to the MLS Cup playoffs.
“We know we have a great chance this year to win the whole thing and there’s no reason why we can’t do that,” Keller said.
While they like their chances, Hanauer knows it won’t be an easy task either, as the Sounders have yet to win a playoff match in their two previous tries.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us still,” Hanauer said.
If the last three years are any indication, though, the Sounders FC is more than willing to put in that work.