TUKWILA, Wash. — In the past two seasons, there were those around the league who downplayed Seattle’s back-to-back Lamar Hunt US Open Cups. Long considered by some teams a secondary competition, many MLS outfits used the Open Cup to get minutes for reserves and didn’t appear too disappointed when they crashed out.
According to Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, that attitude is changing.
“I think so, definitely, because winning the US Open Cup brings with it qualification into the [CONCACAF] Champions League,” Schmid said. “I think everyone’s emphasis on the Open Cup has become increased and I think teams are showing that in their bidding process.”
Since Year 1, Seattle have placed a strong emphasis on the competition. However, with more MLS teams gunning for the CCL berth, this might be the most competitive Open Cup in recent memory.
With that in mind, what sort of lineup will LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena bring to Seattle for Wednesday night’s quarterfinal? It’s difficult to imagine a global icon like David Beckham playing at tiny Starfire Sports Stadium, but not impossible (10 pm ET, streamed live online at soundersfc.com). LA only have a friendly against Real Madrid next weekend, which opens up the possibility of a full-strength lineup of Beckham, Landon Donovan and Juan Pablo Ángel.
Arena’s historically cagey about even revealing his travel squad, so Schmid has forged forward in his preparations without that knowledge.
“We have to do what we’re going to do,” Schmid said. “We played on Sunday and we have a game again on Saturday, so we have to keep both of those things in perspective.”
These two teams faced off in 2010’s Open Cup, with Seattle riding Nate Jaqua’s brace to a 2-0 victory. After that loss at Starfire, Arena said that USOC games “don’t make sense” and blasted the match as essentially “a reserve game.”
In any case, Seattle come into the match with the same motivation to succeed due to their desire to re-enter the CCL. Berths are available to the MLS teams who finish in the top two in the MLS Cup playoffs, win the Supporters’ Shield or win the US Open Cup. (Canadian teams are exempt from these qualification routes — they must qualify by winning the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.)
With a handful of teams — including Seattle — breathing down the Galaxy's neck for the Supporters’ Shield, maybe the Open Cup will become more important to LA as well.
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS