It's still pretty fresh, but the pain of losing the US Open Cup final could well be the motivation the Seattle Sounders need to propel themselves to greater success in the MLS Cup playoffs.
At least, that’s what head coach Sigi Schmid is hoping as the Sounders turn their focus to league play and Saturday’s opponent, the San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“We don’t want to feel that pain again,” Schmid said about losing to Sporting Kansas City in a penalty shootout on Wednesday. “In past years, we felt the joys and fruits of our labor in the Open Cup, so maybe that took the edge off a little bit when we went to the playoffs. Maybe now, having gone through that pain, maybe it puts the edge on in the playoffs.
“Either way, at the start of the year, that’s something that we determined we wanted to do much better in and this just adds extra fuel to that.”
While winning MLS Cup is a prize in and of itself, the added benefit of qualifying for CONCACAF Champions League is something else on which the Sounders are focused. For the first time in their MLS history, Seattle will not be able to qualify by winning the Open Cup, which leaves only the path of qualifying through league competition.
“It’s important for our club to get into that tournament because it’s something that we always want to participate in and represent Seattle on a regional basis,” Schmid said. “Those are our goals anyway. We want to win MLS Cup, we want to get to the cup final game and if we do that we achieve a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.”
One way or another, it appears the Sounders will have to go through the Earthquakes to get there.
Although Schmid echoed LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena’s assertion that the unbalanced schedule has cost the Supporters’ Shield some legitimacy, it still comes with an automatic berth in the Champions League, and the Earthquakes are seven points ahead of the Sounders in that race. As they are also in the same conference, the Sounders likely have to beat the Earthquakes to earn one of the two CCL spots that go to the MLS Cup finalists.
The Sounders and Earthquakes have split their two previous meetings this year, with one of those games coming in Open Cup play. This game could well set the tone for the rest of the season.
“It’s a unique game because we’re going in with much different preparation than they are,” Schmid added, pointing out that the Earthquakes have not played a competitive game since July 28 and come in much more rested. “We have to rely upon our depth and play who we think can help us produce the result we need.
"Our motivation has to be there all the time. Sometimes there’s extra motivation going into games that players can find and draw upon, it’s something that’s been there. We knew that these stretch of games were going to be demanding and difficult, but games we were going to win. We’ve won most of them. Unfortunately we tied in Open Cup and lost in PKs, but we want to win here in San Jose.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.