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Newcomers aim to take Cup from D.C. United
by Ridge Mahoney, September 2nd, 2009 7AM
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[LAMAR HUNT U.S. OPEN CUP] Now that executives of the two teams are done sniping at each other about hosting the game, first-year club Seattle and defending champ D.C. United are set to contest the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final Wednesday at RFK Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel). In launching an unsuccessful bid to host the game at Qwest Field, Seattle has followed through with the emphasis it is putting on this competition, the winner of which probably earns a ticket to the Concacaf Champions Cup, as D.C. did by beating Charleston (USL-1) in the 2008 final.

"They have a good fan base in Seattle and it's their first year in the league -- I'm not taking anything away from them," says United keeper Josh Wicks, a former Seattle foe during his days with USL rival Portland, to "But at the same time, D.C. is defending champions of the cup, so in my book, let them come earn [the right] to hold it up there next year."

To reach this Open Cup final, Seattle has rolled to four straight wins in games played on turf - three at its Starfire training complex, and one in Portland --- and unlike D.C. is unencumbered by scheduling conflicts. D.C. travels to Dallas for a weekend league match, then returns home to host Kansas City Sept. 9.

Seattle's next MLS game is a week from Saturday right back at RFK against D.C. in a game likely to be vital in the playoff push. So from the standpoint of winning a trophy, as well as establishing superiority in their converging postseason quests, this match is essential for teams separated by just two points in the standings. United, with 32, trails Seattle (34), but has played one fewer league match.

"It's a great opportunity to win a cup game and get into a very cool competition for next season for our fans," says Sounders keeper Kasey Keller.

In their only league meeting, D.C. and Seattle whirled through a 3-3 tie June 17 at Qwest, which gave United a full appreciation for the talents assembled by Coach Sigi Schmid, technical director Chris Henderson, and general manager Adrian Hanauer, who traded barbs with D.C. president Kevin Payne regarding proposals and protocols of hosting the final.

Midfielder Ben Olsen, who has played for United during the seasons (since 1998) it has won eight of its 12 domestic and international trophies, says of Seattle, "As far as the team, I think they're very dangerous offensively. They do a good job of interchanging, with [Freddie] Ljunberg and [Fredy] Montero, and [Nate] Jaqua's having a great year, as usual, so they don't have the makeup of an expansion team.

"Sigi is obviously one of the best coaches this league has ever seen, and they have Kasey in the back as an organizer and a leader, so they've got a little bit of everything you want in a team."

D.C. has offered fans inducements such as $12 tickets and $2 hot dogs and beers to draw a good crowd for its third Open Cup match this season at RFK. In its first two matches, United attracted announced crowds of 5,163 and 5,056; its quarterfinal and semifinal games each drew crowds of slightly more than 2,000 at the Maryland SoccerPlex in suburban Boyds.

Both coaches will have some important selection decisions. TFC pressured Seattle hard in midfield and stifled the Sounders' attack for much of the match, so D.C. coach Tom Soehn may elect to go with five in midfield so Olsen and his teammates can use the same tactic. Defender Julius James, acquired from Houston last month, is cup-tied, which limits Soehn's options in the back.

For Seattle, defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is suspended, and his regular central partner, Tyrone Marshall, left at halftime of a 0-0 with Toronto last weekend but is expected to be available. Pat Ianni is Hurtado's probable replacement. Jaqua and Brad Evans also came out of the TFC match banged up.

"For this franchise, in its first year to get to a final is already a great accomplishment, but we don't want to be satisfied with that," said Schmid, who won the Open Cup with the Galaxy in 2001 and lost the 2002 final after winning the league title. "We want to come back with the cup. To be the first expansion team since Chicago to win hardware in its first year [1998] is definitely a goal we have."


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