USOC: Sounders hope Starfire key to fourth straight final

Schmid - USOC Preview

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TUKWILA, Wash. — Few teams can boast of a home-field advantage quite like the one the Seattle Sounders enjoy at Starfire Sports Complex.

The approximately 4,000-seat stadium, located about 12 miles south of Seattle in Tukwila, has proven to be an absolute fortress. The Sounders head into Wednesday’s US Open Cup semifinal against Chivas USA (10 pm ET, live stream on soundersfc.com) carrying a 16-0-1 all-time record in the tournament, largely due to their 11-match winning streak at Starfire where they have outscored opponents 31-5.

“It’s been good for us in Open Cup,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid (above) said, in a bit of an understatement. “The atmosphere is intense. I think for the fans to see a game here is always a little different because you’re right on top of the action and you see the pace of the game. You see the intensity. You seem to be a little more engaged in what’s going on in the field.”

Not only are the stands essentially right on top of the action, but the field’s dimensions are also fairly small by MLS standards, measuring just 70 yards wide by 110 yards long.

“It makes the games a little more duel-oriented,” Schmid said. “It becomes a little bit faster. The game becomes a little more, maybe, exciting for the outside people and maybe more nerve-wracking for the coaches because the ball is either in front of your goal or their goal quicker just because of the size of the field. It certainly adds an element of athleticism to the game.”

WATCH: Sounders preview Chivas USA

The latest team to try their luck at Starfire is at least somewhat familiar with it. Although their personnel only bares a slight resemblance now, Chivas USA did face the Sounders in the 2010 Open Cup semifinal, when they fell, 3-1. They also lost to the then-USL Sounders 2-0 in the third round in 2008.

Despite a lackluster 5-7-5 record, this Chivas USA team has allowed fewer goals (18) than all but two MLS teams. A consistent back line — including an All-Star caliber goalkeeper in Dan Kennedy — combined with the Rojiblancos having never won a trophy in their history has the Sounders expecting to have their hands full.

“This becomes very important for them because it’s something they can target as a chance to get into a championship and win a meaningful game,” Schmid said. “The Open Cup experience is one of those things for them. It’s the same as playing a rival: you have to discount what’s going on in the league, you have to discount if they are struggling to score goals. It doesn’t matter, because it’s a one-off game.”

The Sounders have excelled in these kinds of situations and now find themselves with a chance to become the first team since 1937 to advance to four straight Open Cup finals.

“I think it’s just a mentality thing,” Sounders defender Zach Scott said. “It’s how we approach every game. Every game is a must-win for us. We don’t take anything lightly. We don’t put a second team or a B-team or whatever you want to call it out there. We put the team that is going to be the best team for us and get us a victory.”

Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.