In 2007, the Seattle Sounders won the USL First Division title with a 4-0 shutout over the Atlanta Silverbacks at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila amidst a slew of uncertainty whether anyone on the field would wear a Sounders jersey again.
At the time, rumors abound that USL owner Adrian Hanauer would team with Hollywood executive Joe Roth to form an ownership group that would bring Major League Soccer to Seattle in 2009. However, nothing was clear about what that would mean to the USL club in 2008.
The rumors proved true weeks later when it was announced that Seattle would join the league and Hanauer kept the USL club alive for one final season, bringing with him several players and coaches from that 2008 squad to MLS with the new club. But that 2007 championship match was still a banner moment for many of the players involved.
“The players were more interested in going out with a bang more than anything else,” said defender Zach Scott, who was among seven players on the 2007 championship squad who would eventually move on to MLS. “If it was going to be our last year, we were going out with a win. We would figure out if there was going to be a team after the game.”
While the Sounders couldn’t repeat as champs in their final USL season in 2008, the Silverbacks would struggle in that season on a different level. Atlanta finished the season at just 8-12-10, ahead of only the Portland Timbers in the 11-team league. While the Sounders would move on to MLS in 2009, the Silverbacks would cease operations in the USL for the 2009 and 2010 seasons before returning to play in the North American Soccer League in 2011.
They struggled to a 4-20-4 record in their return in 2011 and have stumbled out of the gates in 2012 at 0-4-5. However, the Sounders aren’t about to take them lightly. They do feature a viable scoring threat in former Chilean international Reinaldo Navia, who has six goals through nine matches and notched ten goals in 40 matches for Chile from 1999-2007.
“We’re not stupid enough to think that we can overlook Atlanta,” Scott said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times with the lower division Sounders that an MLS team has come in cocky and overconfident and we put them in their place. I’ll be sure the guys know we need to stay focused on this game.”
In addition to Navia, Atlanta also has some Seattle-area ties to their roster.
They feature former USL Sounder and Federal Way native Ciaran O’Brien. The 2006 Washington State Gatorade Player of the Year has a team-high three assists, good for second in the league.
Additionally, Atlanta reached the third round on the heels of a goal from Tacoma native and UW product Raphael Cox in a 1-0 victory over the Georgia Revolution last week.
It is the preparation for those types of players that separates the Sounders from MLS teams that tend to fall to lower level opponents in the Open Cup.
“MLS teams need to make sure that they prepare correctly,” said Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who coached the USL Sounders to five wins over MLS clubs in the Open Cup. “On any given day, anything can happen. If we do our jobs as a coaching staff and make sure our players are prepared, it should give our players that added benefit.”
The Sounders have established new standards of success in the Open Cup tournament, becoming the first team since 1969 and only the fourth in the tournament’s 98 years to accomplish win three straight titles.
It’s a level of success that hasn’t been reached by any team in the history of Major League Soccer, as no team had even repeated as champions since the inception of MLS in 1996.
“I think we do a good job of emphasizing just winning. It doesn’t matter what we’re in – Reserve League, Open Cup, Champions League, league games,” Scott said. “Winning is contagious. Winning is something that we want to continue no matter who steps on the field, no matter what competition we’re in. We just want to win no matter what it is.”
As the ball kicks off at Starfire on Wednesday, though, the Sounders FC will have one singular focus.
“Just winning,” Scott said. “That’s all it comes down to.”