The Atlanta Silverbacks landed in Seattle early Tuesday in preparation for their third-round U.S. Open Cup game against Seattle Sounders FC at Starfire Sports Complex on Wednesday night.
The visiting Silverbacks have a tough test ahead of them as they visit the Sounders, who are three-time defending U.S. Open Cup champions and currently sit in third place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. The Sounders have hosted seven Cup games at Starfire Sports Complex in the last three years, winning all of them.
For two Silverbacks players, the game serves as a homecoming. Midfielder Ciaran O’Brien and defender/midfielder Raphael Cox both hail from the Seattle area. O’Brien and his older brother, Leighton, each played for the Sounders during their USL First Division days. In three separate stints, Leighton made over 100 total appearances for the club, scoring 26 goals, while Ciaran appeared in just six games on loan from the Colorado Rapids in 2008.
“It’s feels really great to be back in Seattle to play in front of my family and friends,” said O’Brien, who grew up in nearby Federal Way, Wash. “I did spent some time with the Sounders and I know a lot of the guys on their roster, but once we hit the field, I’m going to have my game face on and try to help us get a win.”
Cox, who scored the goal that sent the Silverbacks into the third round of the Cup, played college soccer in Seattle, starring for the University of Washington Huskies from 2006-2008.
The Sounders, led by coach Sigi Schmid, enter Wednesday night’s contest looking to shake some recent league struggles. The Sounders have only gathered two points in their last four MLS games, but still sit comfortably in the Western Conference standings with a 7-3-3 record.
The Silverbacks will also be turning to the Cup for a potential boost on the field. The team recently erased a four-game losing streak in the league, earning an important 1-1 draw on the road against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Saturday. Earlier last week, Alex Pineda Chacón’s team booked their place in the third round by defeating NPSL side Georgia Revolution, 1-0, in Conyers.
“A win would be huge for our team’s confidence moving forward, but in saying that, we’re not really looking ahead because we’re really trying to focus on this game,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to take it one half at a time, and obviously if we can come out with a win against a top flight team, it would be massive for us.”
The Silverbacks defense will have its hands full with a potent Sounders attack led by forwards David Estrada, Fredy Montero, and Eddie Johnson. The trio has combined for 12 goals in 13 league games, and Montero, along with Atlanta area native Alex Caskey, is tied for the team lead in assists with three.
Along with the Colombian Montero, the Sounders’ boast a strong international contingent, with Argentine midfielder Mauro Rosales and Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez at the forefront of that group. Rosales, formerly of Ajax Amsterdam in Netherlands and River Plate in Argentina, was the 2011 MLS Newcomer of the Year after enjoying a standout debut season.
“They’re an experienced team that has had a lot of success at the top level,” O’Brien said. “We know that they’re going to be throwing everything at us because they have a few weeks off after this game, but we’re optimistic about what we can do and we’re ready to go.”
Although the Sounders represent the Silverbacks’ first top-flight opponent in several years, this type of competition is nothing new to most of the players on the Atlanta roster. O’Brien, Cox, midfielder Nico Colaluca, midfielder Tony McManus, and defender José Burciaga, Jr. all have experience playing in MLS, while the likes of forward Reinaldo Navia and midfielder Danilo Turcios bring experience playing in some of the world’s biggest tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.
“Certainly it’s a tall order to play a team like the Sounders, but we’re absolutely ready for the challenge and confident that we can get a result,” said Silverbacks forward Matt Horth. “We feel that we have a talented group of players that can go out there and make it happen.”
The Silverbacks last played in the Cup in 2008 when they were eliminated in the second round by fellow USL First Division side Miami FC. The last time they played a MLS team in the Cup was in 2007 when they were defeated in the third round by FC Dallas on penalty kicks.
Wednesday night’s game will kick off at 7 p.m. local time (10 p.m. ET) and can be seen live online on soundersfc.com.
- The Sounders and Silverbacks met in the USL First Division Championship Game in 2007. The Sounders won the game, 4-0.
- Since their U.S. Open Cup debut in 2002, the Silverbacks are 0-2 against MLS teams.
- The Sounders will try to become the first team ever to win four consecutive U.S. Open Cups.
- Silverbacks midfielder Ciaran O’Brien will be facing two former Sounders teammates, forward Roger Levesque and defender Zach Scott.
- Sounders goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, who has started six games this season, played against his current team in the U.S. Open Cup last season as a member of PDL side Kitsap Pumas. The Sounders won the game, 2-1.
- Sounders Midfielder Alex Caskey, who hails from Dunwoody, Ga., spent two seasons with the Atlanta Blackhawks, a PDL team featuring former Silverbacks players Jimmy Maurer and Jon Cox.
- Silverbacks Head Coach Alex Pineda Chacón and Sounders Technical Director Chris Henderson were teammates on the Miami Fusion in 2001. In 25 league games that season, Chacón tallied 19 goals and nine assists, while Henderson chipped in three goals and eight assists.