After earning a draw in its weekend Major League Soccer match at Chivas USA, Seattle Sounders FC traveled north, not east.
The club had originally planned to travel from Los Angeles to Georgia, where the Sounders were scheduled to face the Atlanta Silverbacks in a third-round U.S. Open Cup match.
That plan changed after the MLS club bought hosting rights from the second-division Silverbacks. The game is now scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.
And so, the Sounders spent Memorial Day practicing, then headed home – not to an Atlanta hotel.
“It’s huge,” veteran defender Zach Scott said. “… We were talking about it on Sunday as we were headed back to Seattle, like, ‘We could be on a flight headed back to Atlanta right now.’ So that’s something we’re very grateful to the organization for doing for us, and definitely we want to thank (general manager Adrian Hanauer) and the top brass for getting the game here.”
The switch wasn’t negotiated merely to play on a familiar pitch in front of a home crowd, Hanauer said. Instead, it was to save a couple of cross-country trips for a club that already piles up more travel miles than most teams in MLS.
“My main priority is my team … and winning as many tournaments as possible, and as many games as possible,” Hanauer said. “… So a big portion of the thinking was, ‘We’re sitting up here in the Northwest, we already travel tens of thousands more miles than teams that aren’t in the Northwest. We’ve won three Open Cups. We’ve played Champions League … We’ve dug up the stats: We’ve played 20, 25, 30 games more than other teams … That’s a lot of mileage on the players. And so we engaged in conversations with Atlanta.”
Those conversations would have been unnecessary under previous U.S. Open Cup rules, which awarded home games through a sealed bids process. U.S. Soccer switched to a blind draw for allocation of home games this season – and with it, the right for host clubs to sell games.
Portland was the first to recognize the opportunity. Salt Lake and Seattle followed.
Some have complained that MLS clubs buying competitive advantages from lower division teams spoils the purity of the tournament, which is open to all clubs in U.S. Soccer. However, the Sounders say the rule can work for both sides.
“It’s to our benefit because of the amount of miles that we travel,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “… It’s to their benefit as well because they got something out of the deal in terms of cash … That’s sort of a win-win situation.”
Hanauer, who owned the Sounders when they played in the second-division USL, knows the financial realities at the sport’s lower levels.
“It’s a matter of survival,” he said. “And sometimes taking a check helps you survive and thrive better than the purity of whatever was envisioned by the bureaucrats (making) the structural decisions.”
The bottom line might not differ much from what happened through sealed bids. In winning the 2009 Open Cup, the Sounders played four of six games at home; in their 2010 defense, they played three of four at home; and they won their third straight Cup last season while playing all four matches at home.
If the Sounders advance Wednesday, their fourth-round pairing would likely send them to Portland on June 5 to play the Timbers.
Hanauer said he doesn’t think there’s anything he could offer Timbers owner Merritt Paulson to switch the venue for that match.
Schmid said the Open Cup match combined with an MLS Reserve game Friday should allow little-used Sounders to get game experience. … Neither defender Leo Gonzalez (quadriceps) nor goalkeeper Michael Gspurning (hip) is expected to return this week.