Survive and advance. The Seattle Sounders outlasted USL Championship side San Diego Loyal SC 5-4 after extra time on Wednesday at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Wash., in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup in an instant classic.
The nine-goal thriller is destined to be one of the matches of the tournament and featured everything and then some. From multiple golazos to a stoppage-time equalizer in regulation and a 124th-minute penalty at the death, Wednesday’s back-and-forth affair will last long in the minds of those who both watched and lived it.
“This was a great game,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “This will go down in—I’ve seen a lot of great games on this field, and this was a pretty great game.”
With the contest against San Diego bookended on either weekend by MLS matches, Seattle deployed a youthful roster. The likes of Sota Kitahara, Dylan Teves, Ethan Dobbelaere, AB Cissoko and Reed Baker-Whiting all earned starts, as did Tacoma Defiance left back Cody Baker, who was one of four Defiance players signed to a short-term agreement.
The young Sounders bunch is talented and had been in a similar situation in 2021, when the club started an MLS-record five teenagers in a 1-0 win at Austin FC. Baker-Whiting, Dobbelaere, Obed Vargas (who also started against Loyal SC) and Josh Atencio (late substitute on Wednesday) all featured in that match two summers ago.
“The kids do a phenomenal job,” said Wednesday’s captain Fredy Montero, the lone veteran to start against San Diego. “They score goals, they help us to get better and run and bring all this energy that they have.
“It’s really important for their confidence because they are training next to us every single day and they deserve to play these kinds of games in front of people. They’re getting used to the pressure…You need to manage it, and they did well.”
The Sounders pride themselves as a club whose identity extends beyond the First Team. It begins in the Academy, with players matriculating through MLS NEXT Pro side Tacoma Defiance and ultimately graduating to the senior squad. That pipeline isn’t just an abstract idea. There’s proof of concept, and its impact on the players is palpable.
“It’s really important to be able to see [younger players getting their chances],” said Baker-Whiting. “It helps show [the Academy kids] that there’s a path, there’s something to work for. It can be really motivating.”
Part of the beauty of competitions like the Open Cup is the mixture of wily veterans with rising stars. The Sounders’ youth may have made headlines on Wednesday — Dobbelaere, Baker-Whiting and Tacoma Defiance’s Paul Rothrock all opened their First Team scoring accounts — but it was ultimately Montero who stole the show with a brace.
Montero opened the scoring for Seattle in the 15th minute before calmly dispatching a penalty in the fourth minute of stoppage time of the second period of extra time. The 35-year-old joked afterward that he was prepared to play 90 minutes, but 120 was not supposed to be in the cards. He was cramping before he stepped up to the penalty spot and delivered his 10th all-time Open Cup goal, a club record.
Montero, a Sounders MLS original, was a part of the teams that won three consecutive Open Cup titles from 2009-11, stamping Seattle’s legacy as a successful franchise from the beginning. After claiming a fourth title in 2014, the Sounders are tied for the second-most USOC championships and tied for first among active teams.
“Back in 2009, when we just came into MLS, the Open Cup gave us that sensation of a winning team,” said Montero. “We set the foundation when we won three Open Cups in a row.”
The Sounders return to MLS action on Saturday night in Utah against Real Salt Lake (6:30 p.m. PT; Watch on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app) before continuing their quest for their fifth Open Cup trophy in two weeks. The Round of 32 draw will be announced on Thursday.
As for Montero’s role in the proceedings, expect him to have a say one way or another.
“Fredy just gets better like fine wine,” said Schmetzer.
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