Raphael Cox and Ciaran O’Brien are Sounders fans.
They don’t shy away from it.
Cox, a Stadium High School product from Tacoma, regularly watched the team in the USL while playing at the University of Washington. O’Brien, out of Decatur High School in Federal Way, goes all the way back to the first A-League title in 1995 and watched the Sounders top the Atlanta Silverbacks in the 2007 USL championship game from his college dorm room.
Now playing for the Silverbacks, Cox and O’Brien will face the team they watched in their younger years when the Sounders FC face the Silverbacks in the third round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Wednesday at Starfire.
“I know a lot of guys are talking about revenge from ’07, but I was rooting for the other team in that game,” laughed O’Brien. “I was rooting for Seattle.”
And who could blame him?
Cox watched the club for years and now keeps an eye on his younger brother Jamael, who played for the Sounders FC Academy team in 2011 and now plays for the Sounders U23 club.
Both players are expecting to see a lot of family and friends at Starfire, but both groups will be somewhat conflicted.
For Cox’s family, they will have to choose between watching the elder Raphael play at Starfire in their only opportunity to see him play in Seattle this year or watching the younger Jamael in an historic match at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
“I don’t play in Seattle much, so I think they might lean my way,” Cox smiled. “Hopefully people go to support them as well. It’s unlucky that both games are at the same time. I’d love to see his game and I know he’d love to see mine.”
O’Brien’s family, meanwhile, will have to momentarily ignore ties they’ve held to the Sounders for over a decade.
“I hope they root for me,” O’Brien laughed. “But you never know.”
While he is deeply rooted in the history of the Sounders, O’Brien has no conflict once play kicks off.
“Schmetzer’s been great to me all the way through high school and college. I owe a lot to those guys who helped me get to where I am today. They have a big place in my heart, for sure,” he said. “It’s tough to play against them, but once I get on the field I want to win more than anyone else.”
Both Cox and O’Brien played at Starfire in 2009 US Open Cup play-in games, Cox with a Real Salt Lake team that went on to win MLS Cup and O’Brien with the Colorado Rapids, who would win MLS Cup in 2010.
However, neither imagined when they signed with Atlanta last year that they would draw the Sounders FC in the US Open Cup and have the opportunity to play in front of their hometown fans.
“It’s nice to come back and see everyone - family and friends. I know the atmosphere here is always amazing, so it’s an exciting opportunity,” Cox said. “You always get up to play against your home town team. You try to play it like any other game, but it always has extra meaning to play at home.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 pm with a live webcast on SoundersFC.com.