[U.S. OPEN CUP] With the possible absence of both teams’ playmakers, the personnel and tactics chosen by coaches Sigi Schmid and Frank Klopas are particularly important factors for the U.S. Open Cup final (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer.) Though it's a bit of an injustice to U.S. Open Cup finalists Seattle and Chicago to focus on two doubtful participants, the status of Mauro Rosales and Sebastian Grazzini explains in part why these teams are where they are.
Both Argentines joined their MLS teams this season to spark attacks, make plays, and produce goals, and both have flourished in a league that often smothers and frustrates the skillful. Yet their teams are also stocked with alternatives, in case the primary catalysts are unable to go.
Rosales, an ex-River Plate player and native of Villa Mar, leads the Sounders in assists with 12 and has scored five goals. Grazzini, born in Rosario, came to Chicago in midseason to score three goals and register four assists in nine games. They could both start, come off the bench, or sit out entirely.
A sprained MCL has sidelined Rosales, and Grazzini has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. They are dubbed “game-time decisions” by their head coaches, who nonetheless shouldn’t suffer for incisive creativity.
They tend to be more defensive than offensive, yet the Fire’s Pavel Pardo and Seattle’s Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso are capable in the attack. Chicago is potent from the wings with Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko; Seattle can counter with Alvaro Fernandez, Erik Friberg and Lamar Neagle.
The forwards are in good form; Fredy Montero leads Seattle with 11 league goals, Dominic Oduro tops Chicago with 12. Sounders backup Mike Fucito and Montero have each netted twice in Open Cup play.
While the Sounders are riding a recent run of 11-2-2 in all competitions and are playing at home, where a CenturyLink Field crowd of about 35,000 is expected, Chicago in the past month and a half has shaken out of a malaise to edge into the playoff picture. Of its meager seven league wins, five have come in the last seven games.
Both teams have won three Open Cup games to reach the final, which is being staged more than a month after the semis were played in August. The gap has given the Fire time to jell and incorporate new elements, which have fueled the best season in Oduro’s six-year MLS career. Seven of his goals have been scored in the last 10 games.
“Obviously some late additions have also helped our team, players like Pavel Pardo, who's brought a lot of experience to the team, and a guy like Grazzini,” says Klopas, the Fire's interim head coach and technical director. “We've changed our lineup a little bit and now there's a good understanding of how we want to play.”
Schmid, too, has been juggling his lineup. There’s no other way to get through a season that could add up to as many as 51 games should Seattle reach MLS Cup 2011. Seattle comes into the game, its fourth in 10 days, after tying Comunicaciones, 2-2, in Guatemala City to clinch a spot in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals, and beating New England, 2-1, on the road. The club provided chartered flights and top-class hotels to ease the stresses of a 9,000-mile road trip.
“There were certainly guys obviously that we didn't play in the game in New England and rested, like Ozzie Alonso and Evans, who probably could've played, so those guys will be in the lineup,” said Schmid on a teleconference call with reporters Monday afternoon. “But with the rest, we're still evaluating.”
The Sounders are going for a third straight Open Cup title, which would maintain their perfect mark in the competition since joining MLS in 2009. While Schmid played in the competition as an amateur in the 1970s, and has won it three times as a head coach, Klopas has a tighter connection; he played on the expansion Fire team that won the double in 1998, and scored its winning goal in the Open Cup final. He entered the match at the start of overtime and tallied in tthe 99th minute.
“It was different times,” said Klopas, who ended his pro career the following season. “At that moment, being an expansion team in 1998 and winning the MLS Cup and doing the double at home and finishing a season like that, for me the most important thing was winning but scoring the winning goal was just a memory that, moments like that will be remembered forever.
“You can share with that group, whether you see the guys or you never speak to them again, that one year or that special moment will link us together forever.”