MLS Soccer

With playoffs clinched, Sounders aim for Open Cup

After clinching a spot in the MLS playoffs Friday, Seattle Sounders FC got the reward of a day off Saturday after coach Sigi Schmid canceled practice.

“There was a lot of hard work for our game,” Schmid said Friday. “They’ve got to rest and recover.”

And to celebrate. No one seemed to realize it at the time, but the Sounders’ 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake assured their spot in the playoffs for the sixth time in their six Major League Soccer seasons. However, on Saturday, the league applied an “X” next to Seattle’s name atop the standings, indicating that it had become the first team to assure its place in the postseason.

Of course, the Sounders have their sights set considerably higher. And there isn’t much time to celebrate anyway, as the team will fly across country Sunday to begin preparing for their U.S. Open Cup final Tuesday at Philadelphia.

The Union doesn’t have the cross-country travel to worry about, but they have one fewer day to prepare after their 2-2 home draw with the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

“I am less concerned about Tuesday in terms of being fresh or fitness because (Philadelphia had) to play a game as well,” Schmid said. “They will have fatigue. We are sort of going into the game equal. There might be a couple people we need to move a little bit, move around and make some changes, but we feel this group is a fit group and will be able to recover.”

Schmid went with something close to his first-choice lineup in the win against RSL. One possible exception was Lamar Neagle starting in midfield in place of Marco Pappa. Neagle made the most of his chance, sizzling in Seattle’s first goal from about 30 yards. It was his sixth goal of the season, and first since June 7.

“It’s been a while,” Neagle said. “To score a goal like that, maybe I’ve been storing that one up.”

Pappa is expected to join the Sounders in Pennsylvania after concluding Central American Cup play Saturday in Los Angeles. However, Schmid seemed unsure on how fresh Pappa will be after four games of international cup competition in four cities over 11 days.

“He is going to fly directly from L.A. to Philly,” Schmid said. “So he will be there and we will decide if he is going to be on the bench or how many minutes we think he can play.”

The Sounders also could go into the U.S. Open Cup final without goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who handled the first two matches in the competition before running into injury problems and giving way to usual No. 1 keeper Stefan Frei in the quarterfinal and semifinal matches. Hahnemann was not on the game-day roster Friday, still dealing with a left hamstring strain.

Djimi Traore’s status is also uncertain. The central defender has been out with a quadriceps injury, but Schmid indicated he could be ready to return this week, if not the Open Cup final, then perhaps the return to MLS play four days later at New York.

The Sounders are three-time Open Cup champions and this will mark their fifth appearance in the final in their six seasons as an MLS team.

“Obviously, this club has a very rich tradition in Open Cup victories, and we look to continue that” said midfielder Andy Rose, who scored the winning goal against RSL. “We are a very different team than we were last year-a lot of new faces. Guys want to win trophies. I’ve never won a trophy as a professional; so for all of us, this is a big game.”

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