The Sounders have not been strangers to establishing new standards since joining Major League Soccer in 2009.
They have already been the first expansion side to reach the playoffs in each of their first three seasons. They smashed league attendance records in each of those seasons, too.
In 2010, they were the first MLS club to repeat as US Open Cup champions, then last year they became just the fourth club in history to win the title three years in a row.
This year, they look to become the first to win four successive titles and they start their journey toward that goal on Wednesday when they meet the Atlanta Silverbacks at 7 p.m.
at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila. “You always want to do things that are special and unique,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “At the end of the day, our number one goal still remains to win an MLS Cup. On the other hand, if we can win four Open Cups in a row it’s something we would be proud of.”
The Sounders have had different heroes on each of their runs through the tournament, with Kasey Keller, Nate Jaqua and Fredy Montero each getting Player of the Tournament honors along the way.
The squad rotation utilized by Schmid as the Sounders balance the Open Cup schedule with their MLS calendar and, in the last two years, the CONCACAF Champions League has allowed the club to succeed across the three competitions.
This year, Schmid will be faced with another conundrum altogether. With injuries leaving the back line thin, he has much fewer options than he has in past seasons. And with the Sounders just completing a stretch in the schedule that saw them play eight matches in 29 days, fatigue throughout the lineup is also a factor.
“We’re going to have to see how people recover and who’s prepared to play,” he said. “Defensively, we don’t have a ton of options, so I think you’re going to see the same group of guys unless somebody recovers dramatically.”
In previous years, the Sounders have also had a good mixture of MLS veterans and young players that gelled well in the tournament. With a new blend of players, though, the mentality hasn’t changed, as players are still vying for playing time in the regular season.
Some who may see playing time include rookies Andy Rose and Andrew Duran, MLS newcomers Christian Sivebæk and Cordell Cato and MLS veterans new to the Sounders like Andrew Weber.
Combined with the mix of players who returned from last year’s team, the group is aware of the club’s history in the tournament and the value placed on winning it.
“Coming in and knowing the legacy of Seattle and the Open Cup, it’s our duty to keep it going,” said newcomer Alex Caskey, who played last year with the Charleston Battery in the USL.
Added David Estrada, who has been a key to Seattle’s 7-3-3 start with a team-high five goals, “We’re always talking about being the first at something. We have to respect our opponent. Atlanta’s coming in here to get a result too. It’s a big opportunity for us to create history and that’s one thing that this team thrives on.”
A win on Wednesday would set up a fourth-round meeting with the winner of the match between the Portland Timbers and USASA club Cal FC. If the Timbers win, the match will be at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, which would mark the third time in four years that Seattle will have traveled to Portland in the Open Cup. If Cal FC can pull off the upset, Seattle would host the match at Starfire next week.
Both would provide unique challenges, but challenges the Sounders have conquered along the way in previous years.
“We’ve shown some great resiliency in the Open Cup. You have to be a little bit lucky as well,” Schmid said. “Anytime you’re in a knockout competition, there’s always going to be a game somewhere you’re going to win on penalties or get last minute goals and you just need that break to go your way. It’s the character of the team and it’s something they’ve taken pride in.”
The US Open Cup is the longest standing soccer tournament of its kind in America. Started in 1913, the cup has been awarded to teams of various levels in the American soccer pyramid, but has been dominated by MLS sides for the last 12 competitions. The last time a second division club won was when the Rochester Raging Rhinos won the 1999 title and only one other team, the 2008 Charleston Battery, has reached the final.