Every now and then, two teams without any sort of geographical connection become rivals. In the USL, that was the case when the Sounders met the Montreal Impact. And just like many of those long-standing East-West foes, Seattle and Montreal’s deep-seeded but respectful rivalry can be traced back to a single game.
That match was the A-League championship game in 2004 and this week some of those feelings of that rivalry will resurface for Sounders FC Assistant Coach Brian Schmetzer when Sounders FC meets the Montreal Impact at Olympic Stadium.
“We had some good games against Montreal. It was a good rivalry,” Schmetzer said. “Those were always fun times.”
Though the two cities are separated by over 2,200 air miles and while they would meet just 26 times in the 14 years they played in the A-League/USL together, the final five years were as competitive as a rivalry can be.Things all got started when the Sounders and Impact met in September of 2004 at Claude Robillard Stadium in Montreal.
Seattle had already beaten its Cascadia rivals in the first two rounds of the tournament, ousting the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps each by 3-2 on aggregate. That set up a matchup with East’s top seed in Montreal.
The Sounders were full of confidence, having already handled the top two teams in the West and riding an 8-1-1 record in their previous 10 games.
However, the Impact steamrolled through the East and got the best of the Sounders in the final with a hard-fought 2-0 win.
“That first trip to the final in ’04 made it a rivalry. We didn’t like losing to them in ’04. We didn’t like that one bit,” Schmetzer said. “We had a pretty good team, but they were at home and had the momentum and on that day they were better than us. That provided some motivation for me as a coach.”
In the years to follow, Schmetzer would grow to be friends with Montreal Head Coach Nick De Santis, who now serves as Sporting Director for the Impact, exchanging tricks of the coaching trade along the way.
In 2005, Schmetzer and the Sounders got their revenge in the semifinals, even if it did come with a bit of luck.
Seattle got out to a quick start, taking a 2-0 lead in the first leg at Starfire midway through the first half. Eighty-five minutes into the match, it looked like that lead would hold. But Charles Gbeke – who had played for the Sounders earlier in his career – netted goals in the 86th and 89th minutes to send the batch back to Montreal knotted up at 2-2.
There, the Sounders took the lead early in the second half only to have Gbeke equalize again.
In the 90th minute, Sounders forward Roger Levesque would add to his lore when his shot careened off a defender and past goalkeeper Greg Sutton to send Seattle through to the final where it won in a shootout over the Richmond Kickers to hoist the club’s first league championship since 1996.
“In ’05 we got lucky in the semifinal. We didn’t have the ball in their half the entire game and then Roger kicks the ball off a guy’s shin and it goes over Sutton,” Schmetzer said.
The two clubs met again in the quarterfinals in 2008 and Seattle took a 2-1 series lead from the home leg, but were ousted with a 3-1 defeat in Montreal in the second leg, ending the team’s USL era, as 2009 marked the first season for Sounders FC in MLS.
With just one match between the teams each season, the rivalry has not carried over to the MLS level, but as 2004 proved, it just takes one match to change that.