By JOSE M. ROMERO
This is a tournament that clearly means something to the Seattle Sounders.
Whatever feelings players may have toward CONCACAF Champions League, defense of Seattle's U.S. Open Cup is a priority. The Sounders showed that Wednesday night in their 3-1 win over Chivas USA in an Open Cup semifinal at Starfire Sports Complex near Seattle.
Nate Jaqua scored a pair of goals, one in extra time of the second half that sealed the win, and Steve Zakuani assisted on one Jaqua score and another from Fredy Montero to lead the Rave Green in front of 4,547 fans. Seattle advances to face the Columbus Crew on Oct. 5 in defense of the Sounders' 2009 Open Cup title.
"It's going to be unbelievable playing at Qwest, and a chance to hold up the trophy there," Jaqua said.
"[Steve] Zakuani was sharp today. He had the better of [Mariano] Trujillo on the outside," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. "That was important for us. It's a field that lends itself to speed of play, getting faster, and I think we took advantage of that."
The atmosphere was festive at Starfire, a compact pitch with a newer FieldTurf surface. Someone even lit flares. Speaking of parties, any celebrating of the Open Cup championship will take place on the Sounders' actual home pitch, Qwest Field, where Seattle will host the title game after winning the bid to do so.
"Obviously playing at Starfire is a unique situation because the fans are so close to the field and we pack the place," Schmid said. "It just lends itself to a completely different atmosphere. I think every club wants to win trophies. To be able in our first two years of existence, to be able to get to two finals in the Open Cup, to win the first one and now the possibility to win the second one becoming the first team to win two in a row since MLS has joined the Open Cup, is obviously something we would like to do, because it hasn't been done and it's something unique and special for us to achieve."
Seattle won the U.S. Open Cup in its inaugural season, 2009, at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. last September, defeating host D.C. United. Next month, it’s former Crew-turned Sounders coach Sigi Schmid facing Robert Warzycha, his former assistant in Ohio-turned Crew head coach, in a match for the hardware.
"I know their whole coaching staff. I know a lot of their players there. So it's going to be emotional that way," Schmid said.
For Chivas USA, the club's first chance for a trophy from any major competition was lost. Chivas appeared on the verge of making it a thrilling finish after Jesus Padilla's 68th-minute goal to make it 2-1, but it wasn't to be. Its defense was porous, allowing not just goals but good chances.
"Very disappointing, for me personally it was a big game," defender Jonathan Bornstein said. "I was disappointed to come out (of the game) at half, and it is probably the last Open Cup I will play in at least a while."
Jaqua’s brace gave him seven career U.S. Open Cup goals and five in this year’s tournament, tying him for the lead in the latter category. His first goal came off a run down the left side by Zakuani, who didn’t quit when he reached the touch line and centered to Jaqua for the put-away.
Montero gave Seattle a 2-0 lead in the 59th minute, with Zakuani providing the assist again. Chivas USA rallied nine minutes later, with Padilla driving home a flick from Justin Braun.
Roger Levesque assisted Jaqua on the final goal, with Chivas trying to press forward and time running out.
"Disappointed because we really wanted to go to our first final," Chivas coach Martin Vazquez said. "I thought we had a good start, but you can't give a player like Zakuani, you have to respect and not let him get behind you. Overall the effort was good."