TUKWILA, Wash. – Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid senses a rivalry brewing between Seattle and the Houston Dynamo. The US Open Cup semifinal Tuesday night at Starfire will certainly fuel that duel as the Sounders won 2-1 in overtime to reach the final against DC United.
The two Western Conference foes engaged in a physical battle and Houston held a 1-0 lead into the 89th minute. But Nate Jaqua scored the equalizer to send the game to overtime and Stephen King notched the game-winner to send the Sounders to the cup final.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be really physical,” King said. “It was a battle, but we showed in the last 20 minutes of regulation – we were still going and I think they ran out of gas a little bit. That was the difference.”
After combining for 40 fouls and nine yellow cards, including two for Seattle defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, the scoresheet showed just how physical the game became. And if that wasn’t evidence enough, Jaqua’s wrapped head was Exhibit B. In the opening moments, Jaqua collided with a Houston player and cut the right side of his head.
“I don’t know exactly what the collision was,” Jaqua said. “I was a little bit angry - anytime you get hit in the head, you get a little bit angry. It was just a real physical game, so stuff like that happens.”
Houston got off to the lead when Ade Akinbiyi got free in the box in the 32nd minute and knocked a loose ball past Kasey Keller from close range for the 1-0 lead.
That score held until halftime, but Seattle went to the offensive in the second half. The Sounders outshot Houston 12-0 in the second half, but it was Jaqua’s 89th minute goal that was the back-breaker.
On the equalizer, James Riley played a ball forward through space to Sebastien Le Toux at the top of the 18. He slipped it to Roger Levesque in the middle of the box and Levesque played it on a touch to Jaqua coming down the left side. Jaqua gathered the ball and blasted a left-footer inside the far post to make it 1-1.
“We were getting good chances and we were opening up and playing well the last 20 minutes and it felt like they were slipping a little bit in their energy level,” Jaqua said. “We were just thinking, if we keep going we’ve got to get one.”
Seattle continued their run of offense in the overtime, doubling up Houston’s shots 10-5 after regulation.
In the 94th minute, Steve Zakuani got out on a run up the left side. There he took his defender one-on-one to the endline and crossed it to the middle where Houston midfielder John Michael Hayden misplayed it to the feet of King, who blasted it home for the go-ahead score.
“We take this tournament really seriously. We know we want to win it, so to be a part of the run in the Open Cup,” said King, who also netted the game-winner against Portland in the third round. “To get a goal against Portland and a goal here, it’s pretty special.”
In the games waning moments, Seattle faced an uphill climb when Hurtado was sent off for his second caution on a reckless tackle, leaving the Sounders a man down for the final ten minutes.
“We knew we were going to have to bunker in a little bit and pay attention to their runners. I think everyone fought hard and we were able to do that,” King said.
The win sends Seattle to the final for the first time. The club reached the semifinal at the A-League and USL levels in 1995, 2007 and 2008, but lost all three times.
“It’s great, but we still have business to do. We want to win this thing so I guess we’re going to DC now,” Jaqua said. “We’ll go to DC and win this thing. I think it’ll be special for this club, in their first year, to win the Open Cup.”
The win was the second in ten games against the Dynamo, getting both big wins in come-from-behind fashion.
“You need to win big games in order to get confidence that you can win big games,” Schmid said. “Coming from behind twice against Houston certainly helps that.”
DC United topped the Rochester Rhinos 2-1 Tuesday and will host the final Sept. 2 at 4:30 pm (Pacific Time) at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel.