It wasn’t so long ago when many MLS clubs trotted out a mismatched collection of reserves for Lamar Hunt US Open Cup matches.
But as the Seattle Sounders prepare to host FC Dallas at the Starfire Sports Stadium in the semifinals of America’s longest-running cup competition on Tuesday night (10 pm ET, streamed LIVE on SoundersFC.com), the profile of the tournament — and the importance given to it by MLS clubs — have both increased dramatically.
“It’s an important game for us because we have always taken the Open Cup seriously,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, whose team is trying to become the first MLS side to three-peat. “Obviously, Dallas takes it seriously as well because ... the Hunt family owns the team.”
The magnitude of the event — both a clash against a conference rival and a chance to advance to the finals of a tournament that’s named after his club’s founder — hasn’t been lost on FCD coach Schellas Hyndman or his players.
“We know the significance of this event, this game, [the] semifinals of the Open Cup in our owner's name,” Hyndman explained to MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “It gives us a direct route into the CONCACAF Champions League ... for next year, so we’re putting out a very strong team and I would expect Seattle is putting out their strong team.”
A 10-day break from competitive play following the showdown ensures as much. Schmid rested Uruguayan midfielder Álvaro Fernández this past weekend, bringing him off the bench in the second half of his team's 6-2 demolition of Columbus, and has been juggling minutes for the vast majority of his starters. That means he’ll have fresh legs to call upon against Dallas.
Hyndman, meanwhile, will be without defender Zach Loyd as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. But FCD will be buttressed by the return of George John, who saw a move with Blackburn Rovers of the English Premier League fall through. Hyndman also said that while John will be back on the 18-man game-day roster, he might not start the match alongside Ugo Ihemelu.
Nevertheless, the game features two of the league’s hottest franchises. FC Dallas’ 12-3-3 record in their past 18 competitive matches is only marginally eclipsed by Seattle’s 13-2-3 mark over the same period, and within the last two weeks, the two sides became the first MLS teams to win a competitive match in Mexico.
“They’re playing very good soccer right now,” Hyndman said of the Sounders. “They maybe one of the hottest teams in the league right now, showing their result they had against Columbus. But at the same time, we’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
The fact that history awaits this Sounders team only adds to the sense of anticipation that has been building in the Emerald City.
“I think it’s a game of massive importance, but we want to accomplish something that no MLS team has done by winning three in a row,” Schmid said. “We’ve already got something with two in a row, but any time we can make an achievement that sets us apart, it’s important to our club.”
Dallas, meanwhile, are playing for revenge. Seattle beat them 1-0 in Texas on Aug. 20, a match in which MVP candidate Brek Shea was limited by the defensive work of Seattle’s Zach Scott. That matchup will be one to watch as two teams that seem likely to see each other sometime in the MLS Cup playoffs face off.
“It seems always when we run into Cup opponents, it seems we play them in league fairly recently prior to a Cup game,” Schmid said. “Obviously that’s going to add something to the game.”