USOC Corner: The Semis

An all MLS Semifinal is not necessarily a boring ordeal
by Daniel Casey   |   Wednesday, July 11, 2012

US Open Cup Corner - 2012 Lamar Hunt USOC

Tuesday, July 11 2012

Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City
PPL Park; Chester, PA
7:30 p.m. ET

Seattle Sounders vs. Chivas USA
Starfire Sports Complex; Tukwila, WA
10 p.m. ET

It’s difficult to compare a team’s form within a tournament to a team’s form in its league. One of the beautiful madnesses of soccer is this unpredictability. On paper the Semifinals for the 2012 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup should be cut and dry: Sporting Kansas City advances over Philadelphia and defending champions Seattle easily defeat Chivas USA to set up a Kansas City versus Seattle Final. Yet that very well might not happen.

Although Seattle have won the Cup three times in a row now, the team has got it into its head that it is somehow being victimized by not getting to play ‘at home.’ This is laughable because when Seattle does play ‘at home’ it plays at its training park Starfire Sports Complex. Also, the notion that there’s some kind of grand plan to keep the Sounders down floats easily into a much used delusional bourgeois space — you know, it’s the one that also houses the idea that new parents are burdened by hordes of childless singles. The Seattle Sounders are the very definition of ‘white people problems.’ So, in an effort to quell the Nickelodeon-slime green envy of the Sounders, they host their Semifinal match-up against Chivas USA. If Seattle win and Kansas City loses, then Seattle will get to go for their record fourth straight Cup at their home grounds.

But not so fast, we have to consider another possibility first. Namely, Seattle might very well lose. The fact of the matter is that Seattle have not been a dominate team this year (in fact, with the exception of RSL and San Jose, all of the Western Conference have failed to live up to the hype). Over their last three games in MLS play, the Sounders have been starkly underwhelming. The Sounders recent win over Colorado was a bit better in terms of play but hardly anywhere near a controlling display (the win had more to do with Colorado’s missteps). A draw against a faltering Real Salt Lake, a late draw against a rebuilding New England, a loss to the now managerless Portland Timbers, a draw to Kansas City, a crushing defeat at the hands of expansion Montreal, a draw to Chivas, a loss to Columbus, a draw with fellow Cascadians Vancouver, and a loss to Real Salt Lake finally take us back to Seattle’s last league win before Saturday. This is a record that hardly evinces strength.

On the other side of the pitch, Chivas USA have been quietly setting up shop. The team has strung back-to-back cleansheets and has only lost one in their last eight — that loss to the vastly superior Real Salt Lake. Chivas don’t score goals (let that sink in — I’m talking about a soccer team that doesn’t score goals), but neither do they give up goals. Chivas has the fewest goals scored in MLS with 11, yet only Kansas City and Columbus (oddly enough) have surrendered fewer goals (Chivas with 18, the other two with 17). Of the two teams, Chivas is in better form but they still have to be considered outsiders for this one. Seattle has thrown the rust off with their win over Colorado and in every Cup match this year have oozed confidence, whereas Chivas have seemed startled every time they’ve won.

Speaking of surprise, Philadelphia is now a winning team. Yeah, I know, go figure. Most pundits have claimed or at least implied that it has to do with Peter Nowak’s departure that Union players are now playing for a coach they like and want to win games. I don’t think so. Well, maybe. If that’s the case, then Philadelphia are a sorry lot because refusing to play at your best every match reveals a complete lack of professionalism and disrespect towards the crest. Regardless, the team has won three of their last five having done so decisively. One of those victories was a 4-0 drubbing of Sporting Kansas City. That loss has been part of a slight skid for Kansas City, over their last six matches they’ve won two and given nearly as many goals as they have scored (for 6, against 7). The situation is hardly dire for Sporting, but it does needle. With the match at Livestrong Park, Sporting have to feel they have the advantage since they have only lost there twice this season.

If Chivas USA and the Philadelphia Union make it to the final, it will be difficult for supporters. Why? Because arguably the two weakest American teams in MLS will be vying for the Cup of the United States. A win in the final means a CONCACAF Champions League berth. Dwell on that a moment. Chivas, an after-thought for most the league, could be in the Champions League. This fact could be a catalyst in turning the team around, continuing to build on the new look Goats. If Philadelphia were to get access to the Champions League I can only see them failing to make any use of it continuing down the road of becoming the United States version of Toronto FC.

For all my complaints and snide comments, this year’s semifinals will be battles. I can’t imagine these match-ups not being hard-fought, entertaining affairs. This year the US Open Cup has grown in terms of supporter attention and viewing. The semis will continue this trend as two teams desperate for silverware (Chivas USA and Philadelphia) vie for a place in the final, a dangerous squad who have come into their own are expecting success (Sporting Kansas City), and the longtime champions (Seattle Sounders) seek to continue their astonishing run.

Daniel CASEY

Carthage College Univ. of Notre Dame
Club Domestic:
Chicago Fire & Minnesota Stars
Club Foreign:
Manchester United
Founder/editor of the literary magazine Gently Read Literature, active but barely read poet and literary critic, and an occasional English professor. Never got to play soccer until his mid-30s, so he is routinely schooled by U10 crowd at pick-up games.