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No love lost between Open Cup finalists

SEATTLE -- As D.C. United and Seattle Sounders FC set to face off for the 2009 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, an off-field war of words between the two clubs has grabbed headlines for the past month. Seattle Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer and D.C. United president Kevin Payne have been lobbing verbal grenades at one another since late July, when it was announced that the final match would be played in the nation's capital.The U.S. Open Cup allows participating teams to bid for the right to host matches. Both clubs submitted bids to host the 2009 championship game, with 2008 Open Cup holders D.C. United winning the right to play host to Wednesday's match at RFK Stadium.Hanauer expressed incredulity that United outbid Sounders FC. With an average attendance better than 30,000 fans for MLS games, Hanauer wanted to know why the game wouldn't be held at Seattle's raucous Qwest Field."I'd be lying if I didn't say I was frustrated and somewhat skeptical of the process," Hanauer said to the Tacoma News Tribune. I don't think D.C. has played a game in the Open Cup on the road in two years. They had a road through all lower-division teams to get to the Open Cup Final. I'm not in the know ... enough to be able to raise any real issues, but I'm frustrated and I wish U.S. Soccer would explain why one bid wins over another."In response, Payne said to The Washington Post that it was "really unseemly for Seattle to suddenly show up in MLS and everything should be handed to them." He also expressed discontent in Hanauer's implication that D.C. United has somehow received an easier path to the final.Payne also followed through on his pledge to promote the game aggressively. He called upon fans to come out for the Wednesday night match with full-page advertisements in all of the city's major newspapers. The ad copy included a slight towards the Sounders FC organization and its fans:"The Sounders, and its fans, have said that Washington, D.C., and its fans do not deserve to host the match at RFK. They insisted the match should be played in Seattle."This isn't the first verbal skirmish Sounders FC have been involved in with regards to the U.S. Open Cup. Other organizations have been frustrated with Seattle's approach to the competition, which runs in conjunction with the Major League Soccer schedule.In the 2009 season, Seattle played four Open Cup games at the Starfire Sports Complex -- the club's training grounds in the nearby city of Tukwila. Starfire's layout puts fans just meters away from sidelines, while an overhanging roof on one side of the stadium amplifies crowd noise.Opposing coaches praised the atmosphere but criticized the playing surface, while the shortened size of the pitch led to extremely physical contests. In the contentious Open Cup semifinal with the Houston Dynamo, several players were injured -- including a bloody head wound for Seattle's Nate Jaqua and an ankle injury to Brian Mullan that Houston's coach Dominic Kinnear blamed on the artificial surface.In Seattle's defense, the club said it prefers to play in a packed stadium with a fantastic atmosphere as opposed to a partly-full Qwest Field. Since many Open Cup games fall in the middle of the week with little time for promotion, Sounders FC chose Tukwila.In addition to rubbing other MLS clubs the wrong way -- Real Salt Lake, Colorado, Kansas City and Houston all played Open Cup matches at Starfire -- the decision to play at Starfire also angered some Seattle fans who couldn't get a ticket. The club boasts more than 20,000 season ticket holders, but since Open Cup games aren't included in the season ticket package, many fans who wanted to attend Open Cup games were unable.It is unclear whether these factors played a part in the decision to award D.C. the Open Cup final. Another possible factor involves the proposed match time in the respective bids. Since the Seattle Mariners are playing an afternoon game across the street in Safeco Field, Sounders FC proposed a day game, while D.C. United proposed a standard 7:30 p.m. start.Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller is aware of the battle being waged in the press, but is more concerned with turning in a good match on the field."I know there has been a lot of interesting talk in the press from what's gone on with Adrian to what's gone on with their ownership group," Keller said. "I just hope that it is a great atmosphere and there is a good crowd there and we perform the way we are capable of performing. We will see what happens from there."Andrew Winner is a contributor to MLSnet.com.