WASHINGTON, DC – The Sounders FC came into the MLS with promises of colorful play and trophies and a desire to play international soccer.
All three were met on Wednesday night when the Sounders topped DC United 2-1 to capture their first major trophy, earning a trip to CONCACAF Champions League.
“It means an awful lot for this club, for the organization, for the fans – all the support we’ve gotten all season,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “To win our first trophy in our first year … qualifies us for Champions League, which is another big thing for our fans. I’m really happy about that.”
Fredy Montero and Roger Levesque scored for the Sounders and Kasey Keller finished with six saves to earn the win and hoist the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The Sounders got off to a fast start with several hundred of the 17,329 in attendance at RFK Stadium wearing rave green uniforms and cheering them on.
Montero opened with a shot from 24 yards out that missed wide right, then a minute later had a shot saved by DC United keeper Josh Wicks.
Those efforts continued throughout the first half and Seattle outshot DC 9-6, but the score remained 0-0 at halftime.
In the second half, Seattle again got off to a quick start. But in the 61st minute it looked like the tides may turn. Steve Zakuani chased after a ball against the left sideline, but pulled up with some cramping in his leg. One of Seattle’s consistent threats throughout the game, Zakuani appeared done for the night when he was taken off the field grimacing. But he and Schmid agreed to keep him on the field and the gamble paid off.
In the 67th minute, Zakuani took off up the left side before leading Freddie Ljungberg with a pass just outside the box. Ljungberg took it in and shot, but Wicks knocked the ball away. That left the ball at Montero’s feet and he hammered it into the net for a 1-0 Sounders FC lead.
“It was a good play from Ljungberg. I thought the ball would rebound, so I positioned myself and I got the opportunity and it was a good goal,” Montero said through a translator.
After the play, Wicks was issued a red card for violent conduct and was ejected from the game, leaving DC down a man for the remainder of the match.
With the ball at Ljungberg’s feet, the Sounders continued to put their foot on the gas, pressing the ball forward at every turn.
But in the 86th minute, it was a late-game sub in Levesque that gave Seattle the deciding goal. Sebastien Le Toux, who came to the MLS club from the Seattle Sounders USL club like Levesque, took the ball off the feet of DC United defender Dejan Jakovic and slid it across the box to Levesque at the far post. In an instant, Levesque popped it into the back of the net and celebrated the 2-0 lead.
“(I wanted to) run down on the field and give him a hug,” Sounders FC owner/GM Adrian Hanauer said. “That felt like the nail in the coffin.”
Hanauer was the owner/GM for the USL franchise as well and was clearly excited to see players graduate to the MLS level and have such momentous successes, as was Schmid.
“It’s good to see some of the old Sounders being very involved in the new Sounders winning this cup,” Schmid said.
The win was made a bit more interesting in the 88th minute when a Sounder foul just outside the box gave DC United a free kick. The ball bounced out to Rodney Wallace, who touched it to the right side for Clyde Simms. With an open net in front of him Simms scored the goal to bring the tally to 2-1.
Through five minutes of stoppage time, the Sounders hunkered down against a desperate DC United attack.
“It seemed like those last five minutes took forever,” Levesque said. “When the whistle finally blew, we knew it was our time to celebrate.”
Just a few months into their inaugural season, the Sounders already have their first trophy, though the possibility of early success was one of the reasons he came to Seattle from the MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew in the off-season.
“You always hope and you always dream. You never know how quickly it’s going to come together,” Schmid said. “We felt we had built something that was pretty good and we got off to a good start. It’s probably a little bit of a surprise, but nothing unexpected.”