CHIVAS: Seattle provides stiff test in semis
July, 10, 2012
By Scott French | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Abelimages/Getty ImagesChivas USA defender James Riley knows how hard it is to win at Starfire Sports Complex, having been a member of the Seattle Sounders during their U.S. Open Cup success of the last several seasons.
Chivas USA sits just 90 minutes -- perhaps 120; perhaps penalty kicks, too -- from playing for its first trophy, but it's not just the Seattle Sounders that stand in its way.
History, too, has some say and plenty of sway, and it all favors the Sounders in Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup semifinal in Tukwila, Wash.
- The Sounders have won the past three championships in the 99-year-old competition, one for every season they've played in Major League Soccer.
- They're in their sixth straight semifinal, dating to their time in the second division, haven't lost in the Open Cup since the 2007 semis and haven't been beaten in regulation since 2005.
- They have won all 16 Open Cup matches at Starfire Sports Complex's 4,500-seat stadium, which has been the incubator for Seattle's recent supremacy in the nation's oldest soccer event: The Sounders are 11-0 in Tukwila these past four campaigns.
Chivas, which lost in a 2010 semifinal at Starfire, isn't intimidated.
“It's a chance to get to a final for this club, very important,” said right back James Riley, who was part of all three Sounders title teams. “To do it at Starfire isn't going to be easy, and I think we're up for the challenge, for sure.”
Chivas has lost just once in 11 competitive matches, pulling out three tight Open Cup victories in that span, the last two -- in the fourth round at second-tier Carolina RailHawks and in the quarterfinals against third-tier Charlotte Eagles -- on goals in second-half stoppage.
Seattle has had it easier, blowing out the second-division Atlanta Silverbacks, 5-1, and Thousand Oaks-based amateurs Cal FC, 5-0, before holding off the San Jose Earthquakes in a 1-0 quarterfinal victory earlier this month in San Francisco.
The Sounders just ended a franchise-record nine-game MLS winless streak, and Riley, who came to the Goats last November via Montreal in the expansion draft, says that although “they've been struggling a little bit, I kn they have fantastic players. I know once they get one [win], they'll go on a little bit of a run.”
“It's a huge challenge,” Chivas head coach Robin Fraser said. “Obviously, Seattle wins frequently and wins at their place and wins in Open Cup, so certainly it's a great challenge going in there, but we like the fact that [ours] is a team that has really begun to respond to challenges. We feel as if we're doing some things well and are on the verge of doing some things even better.”
The Goats to be better at scoring goals: They have only 11 in 17 MLS matches, has been shut out in three of their last four and are coming off successive scoreless draws in league play. Striker Juan Agudelo has been upgraded to doubtful with a sore left knee, but the Goats should otherwise be close to full strength -- there is no game this weekend requiring Fraser to monitor minutes.
The occasion won't bother them, but the atmosphere figures to be electric. The Sounders average 39,000-plus for MLS games at CenturyLink Field, and Riley says Starfire has the “same environment, just a more intimate setting.”
It's a tight, quick field, which doesn't favor Chivas, which prefers to play a patient possession game better suited for larger spaces.
To beat Seattle, Riley said, the Goats must “absorb their pressure. I think chances are going to come both ways. They know how to play on that field, they're going to use the home field to their advantage, the home crowd. They're going to be buzzing, have a lot of energy and vigor. It's our job to bend and not break, take our time on throw-ins and set pieces, try to take the fans out of it as much as we can. ...
“When we have our chances, we have to be clinical. We're not going to get a lot, but we're going to get a few -- a few good chances -- and we have to put them away.”
WORTH NOTING: The game kicks off at 7 p.m. and will be streamed on the Sounders' website. ... The Philadelphia Union is home against Sporting Kansas City in the other semifinal. The title game will be played Aug. 7 or 8 in Seattle, K.C. or Philly's stadium in Chester, Pa. ... Seattle is seeking to become the first team since 1935 to reach four straight finals. No team has won four straight titles. ... Forward Jose Erik Correa was voted Player of the Round for the quarterfinals by media through TheCup.us, the premier Open Cup website, after scoring both goals to beat Charlotte. ... Chivas has advanced past its Open Cup opener only twice, in 2010 and this year. Its all-time record in the competition is 5-6-1, with one loss on penalties. ...
The Sounders have outscored foes, 32-7, in the 16 Open Cup games at Tukwila. They are 9-2-1 at other Seattle-area venues and won the past two titles at CenturyLink. ... Seattle has played on the road in only four of 17 Open Cup games since joining MLS, primarily by mastering U.S. Soccer's bidding process to choose hosts, which was fine-tuned this year. The Sounders have played just once on the road this year after buying Atlanta's home game in the opener. Riley's take: “The ownership there has wanted to really invent the Open Cup, put a lot of significance into it, so they've been able to win bids and things of that sort. That's the ownership wanting to take advantage of opportunities to benefit the club and put them in a better circumstance to win trophies, and I think that's good.” ... Two of the Tukwila victories were in the MLS qualifying phase for the 2009 tournament. ... Steve Zakuani in Saturday's 2-1 win over Colorado made his first MLS appearance since his right leg was so brutally broken by the Rapids' Brian Mullan 14½ months earlier. Zakuani and Mullan embraced and exchanged jerseys afterward. ... Chivas left back Ante Jazic (groin strain) and midfielder Miller Bolaños (hamstring strain) are listed as probable.