Success in the USOC has helped the Sounders make name for itself

There is an assumption that when a team comes back from a first half deficit that there must have been some sort of fiery speech at halftime to reinvigorateWhen Sounders FC burst onto the Major League Soccer scene with its inaugural season in 2009, Seattle was in a frenzy with the success of the expansion club. While the early-season success and run to the playoffs took the league by surprise, as no first-year club had accomplished that since the Chicago Fire won MLS Cup in 1998, it was the win of the 2009 U.S. Open Cup over D.C. United that cemented Seattle as a club to be reckoned with from its first season.

The 2009 title triggered a run of three consecutive U.S. Open Cup championships for Sounders FC – an unprecedented run of success in MLS – but the joy felt in the Open Cup didn’t just start in 2009. In the USL, the Seattle Sounders reached the Open Cup semifinal in consecutive seasons in 2007 and 2008. While there were other factors at play, that USL success laid the groundwork for Sounders FC’s tournament dominance.

“My philosophy has always been that if you enter a competition, you take it seriously. The thing that was different here was the atmosphere at Starfire. The closeness of the fans and the intensity of the fans just provided a different atmosphere,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid, who previously won the Open Cup in 2001 with the LA Galaxy. “Then with some of the USL holdovers, the USL Sounders had so much success in the Open Cup so guys like Roger Levesque, Taylor Graham and Zach Scott were really important. For them, this was their yearly opportunity to prove themselves against MLS teams. I think that carried over even though we were now an MLS team.”

The USL Sounders raised some eyebrows in 2003 with a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. Against a San Jose team that would go on to win MLS Cup with players like Goalkeeper of the Year Pat Onstad and MLS Best XI midfielder Landon Donovan along with other stars all through its lineup, the Sounders got a goal late in the first half and then made sure it held up with a stout defensive effort the remainder of the match at Husky Soccer Field.

However, in the quarterfinals the Sounders were blasted 5-1 by the LA Galaxy and wouldn’t get another chance against an MLS team in the Open Cup until 2007, but a feisty Seattle team would be sure to make that one count.

Facing Chivas USA in the third round, the Sounders fell behind 1-0, but then rolled to a 3-1 win behind two goals from Sebastien Le Toux and another from Roger Levesque to set up a matchup with the Colorado Rapids in the quarterfinals. Like the LA match four years earlier, this one ended in a blowout as well, but this time it was in favor of Seattle.

The Sounders faced off against another Goliath of a team that had U.S. National Teamers Pablo Mastroeni, Conor Casey and Herculez Gomez. However, Seattle had a good team on the field, too, and got goals from four future MLS players in Graham, Scott, Josh Gardner and Le Toux and finished with a 5-0 win to reach the semifinals and a showdown with FC Dallas. There, Seattle’s magical run came to an end with an overtime loss, but the success the Sounders had that year set the tone for the team for the next five years.

“We just had a good team. And it’s easy to motivate an underdog in any sport. The players play with no pressure to win. And a lot of times that pressure to win is what prevents teams and players from playing up to their potential,” said Sounders FC Assistant Coach Brian Schmetzer, who was the head coach of the USL club from 2002 until the move to MLS after the 2008 season.

In 2008, Seattle again reached the semifinals, earning wins over Chivas USA and the Kansas City Wizards along the way before falling to the Charleston Battery in the semifinal.

With that base behind them, Sounders FC again rolled through the tournament in 2009, starting off the tournament with a win over the Portland Timbers, something they would celebrate again in 2010.

Famously in that match, Levesque scored 48 seconds into the first meeting to usher the rivalry into the MLS era, as the Open Cup meetings in 2009 and 2010 were the only competitive matches played between the two cities until the Timbers made the move to MLS in 2011.

“We enjoyed the celebration – the chopping down of Nate Jaqua. Winning on PKs was a great emotional high,” Schmid said. “You could sense already the atmosphere that was going to exist once the two teams were in MLS. It definitely fulfilled what my expectations were going into it.”

Seattle went on to top D.C. United 2-1 in the 2009 final at RFK Stadium, giving the club the confidence and momentum to carry it through to the playoffs. That victory at RFK can’t be understated in its importance in legitimizing Seattle’s success in that inaugural season.

“I think it was very important. We were playing away at D.C., which prided itself as the team that wins trophies. Being able to win away from home, win there and win in the manner that we did where we were in control of that game from start to finish, was something that really helped the team,” Schmid said. “It showed that we can compete with anybody and we can win a trophy and that really helped our confidence.”

After winning in 2009, Seattle continued to rewrite the record books with wins at home in front of record crowds at CenturyLink Field against the Columbus Crew in 2010 and Chicago Fire in 2011 to become the first MLS club to win twice in a row, then the first team in over 40 years to win three straight titles. The unstoppable run wouldn’t end until a shootout loss in Kansas City in 2012, but in those six consecutive seasons, Seattle and the Open Cup had become synonymous.

“For us, when you think of winning three in a row and reaching four finals in a row, it’s a pretty fantastic accomplishment. It’s one and done. If you mess up one time, you’re out of there. So for us to have a streak that lasted over four years like that is a proud accomplishment of the team,” Schmid said. “To win three Open Cups also speaks well for the franchise.”

the squad to a second half performance that eventually earns the victory.

For Sounders FC, there was no fire and brimstone from Sigi Schmid when it trailed the Philadelphia Union 1-0 on Saturday night. Just calm confidence and an assurance that chances would come and when they do, they will score and eventually come away with the win. Seattle had already come back to win two games in April after trailing in the first half, so there was no change in the demeanor of the players when they came back on the field against the Union and eventually won the match, 2-1.

"It was usual," said forward Obafemi Martins when asked of the teams mentality entering the second half. "Coming in, Sigi was talking about how we get the three points—we had to score early when we're out there, and we did it. We worked hard and scored goals and got the three points."

Seattle has shown great character and composure all season in bouncing back for wins against FC Dallas and Chivas USA last month, as well as a 4-4 draw with the Portland Timbers. Against the Union, the Sounders were victims of their own errors as they trailed 1-0 at halftime off of an own-goal in the 13th minute and a missed penalty in the 40th minute.

Even after suffering those two fates, Seattle didn't hang its collective heads, but instead held the same steely gaze that had propelled it to the best record in MLS at 6-2-1.

"Those things happen in a game. You can't let them be the end of the game for you," defender Chad Marshall said. "I think if this season was going differently for us we might say 'Here we go again.' We've been getting good results and I just don't think we have that mindset as a team. We're going to battle until the end. It's kind of a 'Never say die' attitude."

Marshall embodied that attitude, coming up with six blocked shots in the match to keep the Union to just the one goal. That he later added the game-winning goal further solidified his importance in the match.

In addition to the first half flubs, Seattle was also dealt a tough hand when left back Dylan Remick was forced out of the match in the 51st minute with an injury. Schmid wanted to keep the offensive focus, so he brought Marco Pappa into the match for Remick and moved Brad Evans from the right side of midfield to left back.

The addition of Pappa to the attack created more attacking opportunities and Evans' attacking prowess from the back set up Seattle's first goal in the 61st minute.

On a ball that deflected into the air, Evans skied to beat six-foot-four Philadelphia defender Aaron Wheeler to the ball and nodded it to Martins in behind the defense. Martins took a touch, then volleyed it past Zac MacMath to equalize at 1-1.

The set-up on the initial shot was as important as the rugged effort from Evans that led to the goal.

"I think the movement of the ball and the movement of the players – they're very confident that if they keep moving they'll get the ball back," Schmid said.

Seattle continued to press on the offensive side while limiting the Union to just one shot on goal all match on the defensive side.

Finally, in the 84th minute, Pappa sent a corner kick into the box and Marshall snapped a header in for his first goal in Rave Green to give Sounders FC the 2-1 win, extending the club's winning streak to four and the unbeaten run to five matches.

"The guys fight for each other, the guys battle for each other. We said it at the beginning of the season—we wanted to be a team that fought to the very end of games and we're doing that," Schmid said. "We're showing that when the crowd is here, and they're behind us, and it's raining, and they're still singing and chanting and jumping up and down—we deserve to keep working for them."

Seattle will have a quick turnaround this week, hosting FC Dallas on Wednesday before flying cross-country to face the New England Revolution on Sunday.