[U.S. OPEN CUP] Neutral fans and skeptical pundits seldom praise the U.S. Open Cup, but even the most disdainful critics had to be impressed by what Seattle and Columbus produced at Qwest Field in the 2010 final Tuesday night. Driven by the roars and cheers of 31,311 fans, the largest crowd to see an Open Cup final in the competition’s 97-year history, Seattle rallied from a 1-0 deficit with a pair of goals by Sanna Nyassi to down the Crew, 2-1, and repeat as champion.
Trailing to a Kevin Burns goal in the 24th minute, Seattle tied it up in the 38th minute when Nyassi ran down a weak goalkeeper clearance to drill a low shot into the net. Nyassi notched the winner with 24 minutes left blasting home the rebound of Steve Zakuani’s header off the crossbar.
Crew coach Robert Warzycha and Sounders head man Sigi Schmid both fielded strong lineups of regular starters but rewarded a few players for their work in Open Cup matches leading up to the final. Warzycha used keeper Andy Gruenebaum, who’d played every minute in the Open Cup; Schmid gave another start to left back Tyson Wahl, who has played in only three league matches all season.
Burns had played only one of the Crew’s three previous Open Cup games this season; in league play, he’d started four of his six games, played only 336 minutes and taken just one shot. He’d played eight games last year after not appearing for the first team the previous two seasons after being selected in the 2007 SuperDraft. He got the start in part because an injury had ruled Robbie Rogers out of the starting lineup.
In the final minutes Rogers replaced Eddie Gaven, who’d failed to finish a pair of good chances, and nearly tied the match in the 88th minute when he hit a Frankie Hejduk centering pass first-time. It flashed over keeper Kasey Keller, caromed off the crossbar, and by that narrow margin Seattle captured an incredibly entertaining match.
Nyassi, acquired after playing for his native Gambia in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, had scored his first league goal this season only last weekend in a 3-2 triumph over Toronto. Despite playing in 20 games (10 starts) and registering three assists he hadn’t been able to get a goal until the Toronto game, but in the final his raiding runs on the right side and those of Steve Zakuani on the opposite flank unhinged the Crew defense several times.
Sounders forward Fredy Montero took three shots in the first 15 minutes, sparked perhaps by statements from general manager Adrian Hanauer prior to the game that the electrifying young Colombian striker is worthy of a Designated Player slot. But Columbus rode out that initial period of Sounders’ pressure to take a 1-0 lead on a splendid exchange of passes down the right flank among Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk and Steven Lenhart, who provided final short pass that Burns smacked first-time a foot inside the far post from 15 yards out.
Nyassi equalized after Gruenebaum collided with him trying to punch clear a Tyson Wahl lofted cross. Nathan Sturgis dueled with Schelotto for the ball, which popped loose and Nyassi reacted quickest to hit a hard, low shot past Gruenebaum.
Schelotto’s effort and guile prompted a few threatening sequences by the Crew, but with Lenhart and Emmanuel Ekpo stifled, Seattle enjoyed more effective possession and got its winner when a cross from the right flank dropped for Zakuani at the far post. His header off the bounce hit the bar, and as had been the case on the first Seattle goal, Crew players reacted slowly as Nyassi quickly pounced.
A few seconds earlier, Nyassi had been on the right wing and tapped a short ball to Montero. Nyassi then circled into the goalmouth as Montero’s cross drifted over the back line. No defender picked him up and he easily thumped home the rebound to earn the Sounders a return trip to the Concacaf Champions’ League and into the history books.
In the lead-up to the 2010 final, many mentions were made of the past history between the respective head coaches recurred. Seattle coach Schmid was in charge of the Galaxy in 2002 when it played the Crew -- featuring current head coach Robert Warzycha as playmaker -- in Columbus and lost, 1-0. Both the late Lamar Hunt and his son, Clark Hunt, cited that victory – on a cold night in front of only 6,054 fans – as an important milestone in the team’s history. Warzycha served as Schmid’s assistant for three seasons before Schmid left to take the Seattle job prior to the 2009 season.
After Seattle reached the 2009 Open Cup final, general manager Adrian Hanauer got into a verbal tussle with D.C. United president Kevin Payne over which team should host the final. D.C. won the right to host, but Seattle won the trophy by prevailing, 2-1, in front of 17,329 fans at RFK Stadium. Many MLS teams, and their fans, don’t regard the Open Cup as all that important. Lineups teeming with backups are common, but there are exceptions.
By winning again Tuesday, Seattle became the first MLS team to repeat as Open Cup champion; the last team to repeat was the New York Pancyrian-Freedoms in 1982 and 1983. The victory also gives it the chance to replicate the doubles recorded by D.C. United (1996), Chicago (1998), and the Galaxy (2005) as champions of both MLS Cup and Open Cup.