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Sounders ready for Open Cup Final

A series of dramatic matches gives the Sounders FC an opportunity to play for their first trophy Wednesday night in the Open Cup final against DC United.

It’s been less than six months since the Sounders FC played their inaugural game against the New York Red Bulls March 19, but already the club is playing for their first trophy.

Seattle faces DC United Wednesday night in the final of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup at DC’s RFK Stadium. And while the time has been short, the path has taken the Sounders through five matches to reach the threshold of their first cup.

“It’s a special feeling. For this franchise, in its first year to get to a final is already a great accomplishment, but we don’t want to be satisfied with that. We want to come back with the Cup,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.
Their journey to the Open Cup final began with two play-in games, the first of which came against Real Salt Lake April 28. The Sounders took to the pitch at Starfire and capitalized on some experience on the Tukwila turf, getting two goals and two assists from Sebastien Le Toux and three assists from Roger Levesque, both former stars on the USL Sounders team that called Starfire home. Sanna Nyassi and Stephen King also added goals in the 4-1 win.

The next play-in round brought the Colorado Rapids to Starfire. After a scoreless first half, Levesque found Kevin Forrest for a header in the 63rd minute for the game’s only goal. Kasey Keller finished with six saves to earn the clean sheet and the Sounders had advanced to the US Open Cup tournament.

Entering the tournament in the third round, Seattle faced a familiar foe to the south in the USL’s Portland Timbers and Levesque wasted no time in renewing old acquaintances, scoring in the game’s first minute. Stephen King added a goal in the 27th minute on a blast from the top of the box and the Sounders held off a late Portland run to advance with a 2-1 win at a boisterous PGE Park.

In the quarterfinal, Seattle hosted a grinding battle with the Kansas City Wizards at Starfire. The game remained scoreless into the late stages and just when overtime looked a certainty, Fredy Montero earned a penalty and Sebastien Le Toux connected on the penalty kick for the game’s lone goal in the 89th minute. The 1-0 victory sent the Sounders to the semifinal, marking the third straight season that a Seattle franchise reached the penultimate game.

The semifinal saw all the same drama as the previous rounds, with the Houston Dynamo scoring in the 32nd minute to take a 1-0 lead at Starfire. And that lead held up until nearly the final whistle, as another 89th minute wonder by the Sounders sent the game to overtime, this time it was a left-footer from a bandaged and battered Nate Jaqua that equalized the game. Jaqua received a cut to his head in the game’s opening minutes, but stayed in the game with a large wrap around his bloodied head. Seattle carried that momentum into overtime and King notched his second goal of the tournament to give Seattle a 2-1 lead in the 94th minute. That lead held and Seattle advanced to the Open Cup final, but not without suffering the loss of defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who was issued a second yellow card and red card ejection in the 110th minute.

That puts Seattle into the final against DC United, who won the Open Cup with a 2-1 victory over the Charleston Battery of the USL in the final last year.

“This is a must-win. If you win you’re the Open Cup Champions and if you don’t, you’re not,” Sigi Schmid said. “I have an idea of how I want to play and it’s a matter of putting what player in what spots.”

While Hurtado won’t be available, it looks like Freddie Ljungberg will. The dynamic midfielder has not appeared in an Open Cup game yet, but said after the Sounders’ 0-0 draw with Toronto FC on Saturday that he intends to play in the Cup final.

“I’ve been fortunate to be in some tough finals and nothing beats it,” Keller said. “So, hopefully we could perform on the day and get back to the form of what we expect from ourselves.”

Seattle heads to RFK Stadium in our nation’s capital for a date with DC United in the Cup Final Wednesday night. The game can be seen live on Fox Soccer Channel beginning at 4:30. There will also be a live blog of the game on SoundersFC.com.