WASHINGTON – Seattle Sounders FC wanted to win the U.S. Open Cup in front of its home fans. But Wednesday, in a champagne-soaked locker room, the team seemed thrilled just to be bringing the cup home.
That first trophy of the Major League Soccer club’s short history was awarded after a 2-1 victory over D.C. United at RFK Stadium.
“Our fans have been tremendous,” coach Sigi Schmid told Fox Soccer Channel after the game. “To be able to bring back the trophy and to qualify for CONCACAF Champions League next year is I think so great for our fans. ... Certainly this is something that we can take back, it’s something tangible, it can be a defining moment for our team and something we can build on.”
The Sounders became the first MLS expansion team to win a major trophy since the Chicago Fire in 1998. In addition to the oldest trophy in United States soccer and entry into CONCACAF Champions League, the Sounders earned medals for everyone on the roster, $100,000 to be divided among the players, and bragging rights against a hot new rival.
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That rivalry, which had been building between executives of the two clubs, spilled onto the pitch in the 67th minute, just after the game’s first goal.
Steve Zakuani headed a ball to Freddie Ljungberg, who touched it on to Fredy Montero in front of the goal. Montero struck the ball past diving D.C. goalkeeper Josh Wicks, and his foot seemed to catch Wicks in the midsection. Wicks got up, walked back toward the goal and shoved his own foot into the gut of the fallen Montero.
Referee Alex Prus huddled with his assistants and then sent Wicks off with a straight red card. Wicks argued angrily with Prus and fourth official Andrew Chapin, but the result remained. He was replaced by reserve Milos Kocic, and United played short-handed the rest of the way.
“It was a mistake on my part, and I’ve got to learn my lesson,” Wicks said. “The fourth official made a call, and the ref made the final decision. That was it. I’ve got no excuses for it. Tremendously, very, very disappointing.”
Seattle scored again in the 87th minute when Sebastien Le Toux – who started in Nate Jaqua’s usual forward spot opposite Montero – muscled past the D.C. defense and sent a ball across the goalmouth, where Roger Levesque swept it in on the open far side.
“It was all Sebastien Le Toux, all his hard work and effort and determination throughout the game,” Levesque told FSC. “... I just made it to the back post. I was going to do everything I could not to let that slip by.”
That goal became the game-winner when United struck back two minutes later, as Clyde Simms beat everyone to a loose ball in the box after a free kick.
But Seattle survived five minutes of stoppage time for the victory.
After the final whistle, the Sounders went to a corner of United’s home pitch to celebrate with a section of Sounders fans who had traveled in support of their team.
That stadium and those supporters had been the focus of a controversy that had run since July, when the U.S. Soccer Federation awarded the final to RFK Stadium.
Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer questioned the bidding process, United president Kevin Payne fired back in the media and then used the controversy as part of the club’s marketing campaign for the game.
In the end, 17,329 fans turned out. That’s about twice what D.C. United drew in winning the 2008 Open Cup, but about half of what Hanauer predicted the final would have drawn at Qwest Field.
“We really thought this game should have been played in Seattle,” Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “So we really wanted to make a point, coming here and winning it for our fans and for our organization.”
Neither club will need to wait long to renew the rivalry. Seattle returns to MLS play on Sept. 12, once again meeting D.C. United at RFK.