Sounders FC

Sounders halfway home in quest for U.S. Cup

The Seattle Sounders’ enthusiasm for the U.S. Open Cup seems to be picking up steam with three wins behind them and three more needed for the club’s first championship.

“We’re getting closer and closer,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said Monday. “And when you come this far, it’s not a good time to lose. You want to keep going.”

The Sounders’ next chance comes at 7 p.m. today when they meet the Kansas City Wizards in a quarterfinal match at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.

After his team concluded training Monday, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid implied that he might start more regulars tonight than he has in previous Open Cup matches.

That is partly because the tournament trophy – and accompanying prize money – seem to be nearing the club’s reach. But another part is simply to get his regulars some work between league games. The Sounders’ last MLS match was a 3-0 victory over Colorado on June 28. Their next one is coming up Saturday against MLS-leading Houston at Qwest Field.

“It’s a little different than most Open Cup games from the standpoint that we don’t have a league game before it going in,” Schmid said. “But sometimes it’s like that gets overrated, too; because once you’re in the rhythm of playing, you’re sort of in the rhythm of playing. … We want to get guys back in the rhythm. So we hope it’s a plus for us, but sometimes I think it gets more attention than it deserves.”

As usual, Schmid avoided specifics about his starting lineup. However, he implied heavily that No. 1 goalkeeper Kasey Keller will start. And so will Zakuani, who had missed Seattle’s most recent league and Open Cup games because of a sprained ankle.

“I wanted to come back in (earlier),” Zakuani said. “I just wanted to come back at 100 percent, not 85 or 90. Now, I feel that I’m close to 100; not there yet, but almost there. … We’re definitely taking it serious. Kansas City’s a good team. They beat us at Qwest earlier in the season, so it will be a good chance to see how far we’ve come since then.”

The Wizards visited Seattle in a regular-season match on April 11. Their 1-0 victory featured the first goal the Sounders allowed, their first loss and what remains their only home loss.

However, all of that happened with the Sounders playing a man down and with their emergency goalkeeper on the field after Keller received a red card for a hand ball outside the penalty area.

The Wizards appear to be facing the more difficult situation. They are just three days removed from their last league game, a 1-0 home loss to Houston on Saturday. And after this trip to the Northwest, the Wizards have a Saturday afternoon match scheduled at New England.

That busy schedule could cause Wizards coach Curt Onalfo to depend on reserves tonight.

The winner advances to the Open Cup semifinals against either Houston or the Charleston Battery of USL-1. If the Sounders advance, that game will be played July 21 at Starfire.

“I think it still gives us a nice home feel to it because it’s our fans that are here,” Schmid said of the 4,000-seat venue. “It’s our fans. It’s intimate. They’re close. It offers them a different setting.”

Added time

MLS has unveiled the logo for its championship game – MLS Cup 2009 – which will be played Nov. 22 at Qwest Field. The logo depicts a clean line drawing of the championship trophy and incorporates the Sounders’ green and blue along with the league logo and the words “MLS Cup Seattle 2009.” The logo is different from previous versions, which visually emphasized the host city. More information – and reader opinion – is available at blogs.thenewstribune.com/soccer. … The Sounders have announced plans for an amateur tournament Aug. 23 at Alki Beach. Information is available at www.soundersfc.com.

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

blogs.thenewstribune.com/soccer

SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

Kansas City Wizards (5-6-4 in MLS) at Seattle Sounders FC (6-3-7 in MLS)

When: 7 p.m., Starfire Sports Stadium, Tukwila.

Broadcast: No radio or TV. Audiocast on www.soundersfc.com.

What: This is a quarterfinal game of the U.S. Open Cup, which is open to teams from all levels of U.S. Soccer. Seattle advanced with a 2-1 win at USL-1 Portland. Kansas City advanced on penalty kicks after a 3-3 deadlock with USL-1 Minnesota.

Head-to-head: The Wizards beat Seattle, 1-0, at Qwest Field. Seattle will visit Kansas City for a regular-season match Oct. 17.

Notes: Cup rules limit clubs to five international players. With seven international players on its league roster, Seattle will sit out Jarrod Smith of New Zealand, who is injured, and either Sebastien Le Toux (France) or Freddie Ljungberg (Sweden). … If the game is tied at the end of regulation, an additional 30 minutes will be played. If the score remains even, the result will be determined by penalty kicks. … Grandstand seating is sold out. As of Monday, some general admission tickets remained available.

Next: The winner advances to the Open Cup semifinal, meeting either the Charleston Battery of USL-1 or the Houston Dynamo of MLS. If the Sounders advance, that semifinal will be played July 21 at Starfire. Seattle returns to league play at 1 p.m. Saturday when Houston visits Qwest Field.

Don Ruiz, The News Tribune

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