After wiping away the champagne sprayed upon him by a jubilant Kasey Keller, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid composed himself in the interview room, then composed himself a tidy summary Tuesday evening’s festivities at the Clink.
“Being able to balance all the competitions is a tremendous tribute to what this club has been building toward over three years,” Schmid said after the Sounders beat the Chicago Fire 2-0 to win a third consecutive U.S. Open Cup. “We have a lot of stars on this team, but the star of the team is the team.”
The win, yes, that was cool for the 35,615 thoroughly engaged partisans — a record for the Cup (the same title game last year in Seattle drew 31,311), although it was only the second-biggest crowd in town Tuesday, next to the Manitoba-sized media horde at Sea-Tac Airport covering the arrival of Amanda Knox — but the franchise statement was more significant.
Despite the season’s multiple big injuries as well as ridiculous travel imposed by 13 games beyond the Major League Soccer schedule, the Sounders demonstrated a tenacity and a depth of talent that speaks to a well-crafted plan to dominate.
Whether it is the Cup — a 98-year-old, single-elimination tournament that started with 40 teams on June 14 and ended for the third consecutive season with Seattle as the winner — or the CONCACAF Champions League or the MLS, the Sounders are trophy-mad.
“Every time we enter a competition, we want to win it,” said Schmid, which sounds obvious except for the fact that the extra tourneys add so much work and pressure to athletes often making store-clerk money that players on other teams can take lightly games like Tuesday’s.
Not these guys. Not this town — not even on a school night. A half-hour after the game and trophy presentation, most of the soccer sellout remained standing for the confetti-festooned victory lap with the replica Cup trophy held high by most of the team members. The players and the house took this tourney — a little arcane despite its long history that constitutes the national championship of U.S. Soccer (not the MLS) — very seriously. Yet they also know it’s something of a sidebar to the MLS and Champions League.
Winning is cool, just not enough.
“There’s a different feel than last year,” said Keller, whose tip to himself in the 90th minute appeared to be a save that saved the game. “I think after making the playoffs, we kinda let down a little bit.
“This year we’ve been up there all year. We know that every time we step on the field we’re going to win. It’s a cool mentality to have.”
Since the beginning of August, the Sounders — now 13-0-1 in Cup play since joining the MLS three years ag0 — are 12-2-2 in all competitions. The stretch included a nine-day road run that covered 9,000 travel miles: a 3-1 MLS win in Vancouver Sept. 24, a 2-2 Champions League draw in Guatemala Sept. 27 and a triumph over MLS New England Oct. 1.
It’s a killer pace that requires a deep roster for Schmid to manipulate for the freshest legs.
“Different guys have stepped up every game,” he said. “And the fans have been there for us all year. They all waited for (the post-game trophy celebration). That’s what motivates us.”
Despite dominating play — the Sounders out-shot Chicago 14-1 in the second half — the fans were kept waiting for resolution through a scoreless tie until the 78th minute, when Fredy Montero, point-blank from five yards out, knocked in a rebound off the hands of goalie Sean Johnson, a play which began as a corner kick from Jeff Parke. That was the match, although defender Osvaldo Alonso added a flourish in the final minute of extra time when he weaved through three defenders for an unassisted bell-ringer.
That capped an evening that saw the Hawks Nest — the triangle of bleacher seats in the stadium’s north end that hadn’t been used before for soccer — helped complete the embrace of the Cup final, whose site was chosen by high bid only a month earlier.
“You can’t just look at the team,” Keller said. “You have to look an ownership, which was willing to bid to host.
“You can have a great crowd, but the thing I most proud of is we had the play to back it up.”
For what seems like every game in every competition, the Sounders, top to bottom, walk the talk. The talk is a couple more trophies.