When the U.S. Open Cup resumes on Tuesday, two United Soccer League sides will be right in the thick of things. I called Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer to talk a little bit about his club. The Sounders will host MLS side FC Dallas on Tuesday while Carolina will visit New England earlier in the day.
I asked Schmetzer to tell me a little about his side.
"By USL standards," Schmetzer told me, "I think we have a good team."
I've only seen Seattle play once so I'll have to take his word for it. But given that the time I saw them, they dropped a 3-1 whipping on a team I consider one of Major Leauge Soccer's best, I'm not about to argue that.
I asked Schmetzer to explain the driving force behind his team's previous Open Cup wins - the 3-1 fourth-round victory over Chivas USA and the 5-0 quarterfinal win over Colorado.
"I think there is kind of a combination of things that have propelled us into the semifinals. Overall the top half of the USL teams on any given day I think can compete - I’m not going to say win – but I think they can compete with MLS teams... My team is a motivated team for big games. We tanked a game (Friday) against Minnesota. We had problems against Minnesota a couple of weeks ago right after the game against Colorado. There again, that’s kind of just human nature... My guys were definitely much, much more motivated for the MLS and the Open Cup games than some of our recent league games."
Some MLS clubs take the Open Cup seriously but others seem quite more focused on the regular season. I wanted to know what Schmetzer thought about this perception, whether he felt slighted that MLS clubs might look at the Open Cup as a hindrance rather than a must-win trophy.
"I can’t speak for the mindset of the people in the MLS but I can only give you this perspective," Schmetzer told me. "If I was coaching in the MLS, I would take every game seriously whether it was a league game, an Open Cup or SuperLiga. Those guys are paid to win regardless of which tournament it’s in."
Some clubs like Houston and DC United crashed out of this year's Open Cup with a reserve-laden side, but Schmetzer felt that there is plenty of talent on an MLS roster to pull out results regardless.
"They can’t use that as an excuse," he said. "Even the reserves that come on, if they’re going to play in an Open Cup game in an early round against a USL team, even the MLS reserves need to take the game seriously. Whether you are a starter on an MLS team or you are the 13th player or the 14th player on an MLS team and you are getting an opportunity to play in the Open Cup or a SuperLiga match."
When USL sides play MLS clubs, especially deep in the tournament, it seems the USL clubs might have extra support. Everyone loves an underdog, and part of what makes cup tournaments like this one special is that factor - the local pub side knocking out the big boys. Seattle isn't exactly a pub side, but the Sounders aren't in the top flight either and thus don't get the national attention MLS clubs receive.
Seattle will undoubtedly have many fans pulling for them on Tuesday. I'm sure Houston Dynamo supporters would love nothing more than to see FC Dallas suffer the same fate as Colorado and Chivas USA while many USL fans might be supporting their brethren as well.
"It will only help my team so I’m pleased about that," Schmetzer said. "We’re expecting a big crowd. It should be anywhere from 10-12,000 people, which is a big crowd for us. The atmosphere, the build-up to the game, you look on the blogs and you see guys trying to predict the games, it just gives my guys that little bit of added excitement to the match to a team that’s already excited to be there."
With the Sounders' run to the Dewar Cup comes extra attention. Let's face it; I wouldn't have called the Seattle Sounders coach otherwise. There aren't any USL-1 teams in Southern California so I'd have no reason to interact with him. But now that Seattle is on the verge of making history, media far from Seattle have focused their gaze on the Emerald City.
"I’m happy that we’re getting a little bit of (attention)," Schmetzer said. "I just hope that the team can go out there and give a worthy effort out there and whatever happens at the end of the day the best team is going to win and I just hope that my team is prepared mentally and physically and that we give them a good game."
With Seattle having knocked out two MLS clubs and primed to do the same against a third, I asked Schmetzer if he felt that his club was carrying the USL flag against MLS clubs.
"Not at all," he said.
Instead, it's just one group of USL players he was concerned about.
"I’m not pitting us as league vs. league. I’m pitting this as a bunch of guys I’ve had (for a while), some for four years and this group of guys deserves the attention that they get," Schmetzer said. "The players on the team have worked their balls off and they deserve the attneiotn that they are getting because they are playing a high caliber of soccer right now. I want them to win and I want them to receive the accolades because the players have worked hard for it."