Three-peat. That special status is something new in Major League Soccer circles. The Seattle Sounders Tuesday night at CenturyLink Field defeated the Chicago Fire 2-0 on a pair of late goals from Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso to become the first team since 1969 to conclude a third straight US Open Cup championship. They also became the first team in MLS history to win three consecutive titles in any event, including MLS Cup.
A year ago Seattle became the first MLS club to defend a championship in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, an event named after one of the league’s founders, downing the Columbus Crew, 2-1, in front of a then record crowd of 31,311 fans. They topped themselves for a new record attendance by opening more of the stadium, reaching 35,615 – a total that also surpasses eight of the 15 MLS Cup Finals.
In MLS play there has been two Supporters’ Shield repeats and only two teams have won back-to-back MLS Cups. Like MLS newcomers Seattle, DC United famously won the first two MLS Cup trophies in league history in 1996 and 1997 before falling to the Chicago Fire in the third consecutive championship appearance in 1998. DC is also one of the two clubs to win two Shields in a row, claiming the league’s regular season title in 2006 and 2007. Columbus followed them with the next two. The Houston Dynamo won two MLS Cups in a row in 2005-06.
“We always wanted to be the first. Sigi [Schmid] talked about it a lot,” said General Manager Adrian Hanauer after the match before a jubilant crowd about becoming the first MLS side to win three straight Open Cup titles.
“Three in a row is a tremendous accomplishment, and to have two of them here at home – unbelievable. Another record crowd here at CenturyLink Field, which we are kind of getting used to that,” said Kasey Keller, who is retiring after the season with a historic finish to his career.
But after the game tonight, history did not seem to be enough for a Sounders squad that still has three regular season games, the MLS Cup playoffs and CONCACAF Champions League, which resumes with Quarterfinals next spring after one more group contest, remaining.
“We still got more to come. You know, we got one more cup to win this year,” added Keller, who has missed out on winning the league championship since returning to the United States to play.
Defender Jeff Parke picked up on that sentiment. “We’re here and we are ready to go,” he said in reference to other MLS playoff teams looking their way. We still have some things to work on. Tonight is just a great night,” he said, adding that after a day off Wednesday the team will be right back at preparing for the postseason.
“This is my second year here. The team now has been knocked out in the first round the past two years and we want to do something special here. We want to win the cup and make it past the first round obviously. These guys are finding it inside them and they are willing to do whatever it takes and it’s starting to show on the field. We are gearing up for the MLS Cup hopefully.”
An MLS Cup title would further the team’s history-making campaign as only three other clubs have captured the double in the MLS era. DC accomplished the feat in the inaugural MLS season, Chicago won both in its expansion 1998 outing and the Galaxy were the last to do so in 2005.
History took quite some time to make though. Despite a frenzied start, both teams had good free kick chances in the first two minutes, starting a back-and-forth affair with many eye-opening moments. There was certainly no typical feeling out period that often comes in the sport, especially in momentous occasions.
After a frenetic first 10 minutes, the match began to turn physical, resulting in a Patrick Nyarko yellow card for a tough tackle along the touchline on Alonso. After the first half-hour though, the balance of play swayed in favor of the home club, as the Sounders began to take control of possession and slow the match down slightly.
The first moment that those in attendance will remember on the historic night came just as the first half was coming to a close. Montero, who scored the lone goal in the Semifinal win versus FC Dallas, acquired the ball and beat Parvel Pardo while driving in toward the penalty arc. He would let loose a 20-yard effort that whispered past the fingertips of a diving Sean Johnson, only to smack squarely into the left post. The immense crowd was still in disbelief moments later when the whistle sounded for the break.
Eight minutes into the second half it looked again as though history was about to happen when Erik Friberg, on the left side, headed the ball in to Mike Fucito, who flicked the ball over Johnson on an acute angle. The ball bounced several times along the goalline with defenders chasing, bouncing off the inside of the far post and out.
Fredy Montero raises the Open Cup trophy amidst the post-game celebrations
The on-field silence – since there was still plenty of noise from a stadium filled with a raucous crowd – was broken in the 78th minute. Friberg delivered a corner into the box that found the head of Parke, who nodded it straight down and forced Johnson to drop to the ground to make the save. The instant play prevented the keeper from holding the ball, allowing it to rebound out directly to an awaiting Montero, who buried it for his fifth game-winning goal in all competitions dating back to the Semifinal victory. It was his second tally in Open Cup Final, history having scored the opening goal in the 2009 championship as well, a 2-1 victory over DC United.
The strike was the latest opening goal in the modern professional era for a game decided in regulation. Two contests went to overtime scoreless, with the 1997 Final finishing in a scoreless stalemate taken in penalties by DC, and the 2004 Final finishing with a dramatic golden goal from Kansas City against the Fire (the last FIFA championship decided in that fashion).
The match came to a fitting finish, as Alonso dribbled through the Fire defense at the edge of the box, creating an open goal for a euphoric conclusion. Alonso, a refugee from the Cuban national team in June of 2007, was playing in his fourth consecutive Open Cup Final, having played for the Charleston Battery in the 2008 championship against DC United. He has yet to miss the tournament’s championship contest in his professional career in the United States.
2011 – Chicago Fire (MLS) 0:2 Seattle Sounders FC (MLS)
10/4/11 | CenturyLink Field – Seattle, Washington
Seattle: Fredy Montero (Jeff Parke) – 77th min.
Seattle: Osvaldo Alonso (Unassisted) – 90th+ min.
Seattle Sounders: GK Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Alvaro Fernandez (Erik Freiberg 46th), Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Lamar Neagle, Michael Fucito (Roger Levesque 90th+1), Fredy Montero
Cautions – Alonso 90th, Montero 90th
Chicago Fire: GK Sean Johnson; Gonzalo Segares, Cory Gibbs, Josip Mikulic (Jalil Anibaba 61st), Dan Gargan (Sebastien Grazzini 84th); Marco Pappa, Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini (Diego Chaves 80th); Dominic Oduro, Patrick Nyarko