As far as banishing demons go, Tuesday’s fourth-round U.S. Open Cup win for the Seattle Sounders will do little to alleviate the collective grief lingering from the 2015 debacle against the Portland Timbers that featured three red cards for Seattle. Still, with both sides fielding backup-heavy lineups, the 2-1 victory over Portland advanced the Sounders in the tourney.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer was more than willing to point to the 2015 outing, often referred to as the Red Card Wedding (a reference to the popular fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin) as motivation for his young players.
“I put together video clips of the 2014 and 2015 Timbers match out here (at Starfire),” Schmetzer said. “We talked through some of the key moments in both of those games, and I didn’t have to say anything more. We showed them the red cards and the trouble we got in to, the fact that it could be a physical game, and I wanted them to see the quality. We had a bunch of good players out there, and I wanted them to match the quality on the film.”
Quality was needed. Instead of Obafemi Martins, the Sounders had Irvin Parra. For Osvaldo Alonso, Ray Saari and Francisco Narbon. For Chad Marshall, 18-year old Sam Rogers, who signed his first professional contract earlier that day before attending one of his final days of high school. The replacements show promise, but are a far cry from the men who occupied their slots on the field in years prior.
The Timbers took a similar approach, offering a young lineup comprised mainly from Portland Timbers 2, the club’s USL affiliate and S2 counterpart. The issue for Portland? T2 has a league-worst 1-11-1 record and has scored seven goals in 13 games this season, including two losses to S2 at Starfire.
In the third minute, Aaron Kovar smashed home a goal on a cross from Nohou Tolo. The Sounders controlled 60 percent of the possession of the match. Portland made the contest interesting in the 38th mnute after a corner kick scrum resulted in a header goal for Augustine Williams, but Zach Mathers converted a penalty kick in the 54th minute to put Seattle on top for good.
Apart from the slight score-line excitement, the match reflected the inexperience of the rosters. Seattle completed 71 percent of its passes, Portland connected a dismal 60 percent.
The win puts Seattle through to the round of 16, but it also symbolizes the likely end of the era of intense Open Cup rivalry matches. Now that both Seattle and Portland have had a taste of the MLS Cup, the Open Cup seems a poor substitute
The Open Cup will have to find out how it will stay relevant in the evolving landscape of American soccer as more MLS clubs choose to field backups to deal with the rigorous realities of the MLS schedule. The rivalry between Seattle and Portland still pushes the needle, but a rivalry game devoid of its biggest stars is a poor product.