When discussing the fortresses of MLS, it's safe to say Stafire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Wash. is rarely, if ever, mentioned. Maybe it's time that it should.
Since joining MLS in 2009, the Seattle Sounders have been playing U.S. Open matches primarily at the tiny facility about 15 minutes south of CenturyLink Field. During that time, they've gone 10-0-0 while outscoring their opponents 27-8. The Sounders haven't so much as trailed in a match there since 2009. With a record like that, it's no wonder the Sounders chose to host Tuesday's Open Cup semifinal against FC Dallas there.
The Sounders' performance at the facility is a major reason why they have never lost a U.S. Open Cup game since joining MLS and why they are in a position to become the first team since 1969 to win the tournament for three consecutive years.
FC Dallas will find an atmosphere not quite like anything in MLS. About 4,500 boisterous fans will pack into the facility that feels like it should be hosting high school football. The stands are practically on top of the field with a beer garden just behind the south end line and supporters occupying a far larger percentage than at a normal game. Although smoke bombs and flares are officially banned, they tend to find their way in with alarming regularity.
The field is a little smaller than average, which tends to favor more physical players. Nate Jaqua, as close to a bruising forward as the Sounders have on their roster, has scored five goals in his past four games at Starfire. Mike Fucito, a bit of a bowling ball, scored two goals in a game earlier this season.
Luckily for the Toros, they have a few of their own players who should do just fine the cramped quarters. Brek Shea, a near perfect combination of size and speed, will be a handful. Center backs Ugo Ihemelu and George John should be able to join the attack with near abandon.
Some good teams have come through Starfire in the past few years, but FC Dallas will almost surely be the Sounders' toughest test. With both teams having long breaks between their next games, both coaches have indicated they plan to use many of their first-choice players. This game could be very interesting.
Time: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. (online stream); Pick: Sounders 3-2.
Not a lot has gone right this season for the Fire. With just four wins on the MLS season, they sit in 15th place in the overall MLS table. Barring a significant change in fortunes, this will likely be the biggest game they'll play all year. As added motivation, they are just one Open Cup title away from tying legendary Bethlehem Steel's all-time record of five.
They'll be facing a Richmond Kickers team that should not be taken lightly. In their USL-Pro season, they have the third most points and the second best goal-difference. During their magical run to the Open Cup semis, they've beaten the Eastern Conference leading Columbus Crew and downed Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park.
The Kickers are led by Matthew Delicate, who has scored about .60 goals per game during the past three seasons. Teammate David Bulow is the tournament's current scoring leader with six goals. Just for good measure, the Kickers were also the last team to win the Open Cup before MLS teams starting competing in the tournament.
Pick: Fire 1-0.