TUKWILA, Wash. — The fairytale is over, and the Seattle Sounders were more than happy to play the villain.
What was billed as a David vs. Goliath battle morphed into something considerably less glorious for the underdogs, as the Sounders scored five second-half goals to end Cal FC’s Cinderella run in the fourth round of the US Open Cup on Tuesday in front of a national TV audience.
"I think it's great for the tournament,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said about Cal FC, who became the first USASA team to beat a MLS side with last week’s win over the Portland Timbers. “But as we told our guys before the game, 'The TV's aren't here for you. They're here for them. So we need to show them that we have a team, too, and that we can play soccer as well.' I think in the second half that's what we showed.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Seattle 5, Cal FC 0
Almost as if they simply wanted to raise the level of anticipation, Cal FC managed to take the game into halftime tied 0-0. They had done that mostly by employing what amounted to a 3-5-2 formation that featured a sweeper on defense. Cal FC were able to flood their own penalty area with multiple defenders and force the Sounders to send in what amounted to ineffective crosses from their fullbacks.
“What happened in the first half is I thought our forwards were coming too deep,” Schmid explained, “so in the second half we really talked about one center-forward staying high on their sweeper and the other forward staying in connection to him. Playing another 20 yards up the field changes the angles when we play the balls out to the wide guys.”
The halftime adjustment quickly paid dividends.
Although it was an Osvaldo Alonso penalty that got the Sounders on the scoreboard in the 50th minute, the game opened up considerably. Cordell Cato’s cross that set up Fredy Montero’s first goal was a perfect example of creating the kind of angles Schmid was talking about.
What also worked in the Sounders’ favor was a clear advantage in terms of fitness.
“We just wore them down,” Sounders defender Zach Scott said. “It was nice to get the first one and a couple more really quickly after that, and it just broke them.”
Cal FC managed to work through their physical shortcomings a week ago, but weren’t able to pull off the same kind of miracle finish.
“We knew that Seattle just have more quality than Portland,” Cal FC head coach Eric Wynalda said. “This one goes on my shoulders. I think we could have been a little more offensive-minded and I could have trusted them a little bit more because we really just were chasing the game after about 55 minutes.”
Wynalda pointed out that his team has now played a total of eight games together and only practiced five times. That they were able to get this far was undeniably impressive.
But the Sounders weren’t about to let a nice story get in the way of them making a run at a historic fourth-straight Open Cup title. If that makes them the bad guys in future tellings of this story, they seem perfectly fine with that.
“I hope so,” Scott said about playing the villain. “If that’s my role on this team, I’ll do that every single week.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.