Pumas to host U.S. Open Cup match

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With the Sonics long bullied off the NBA’s proverbial playground, it’s been months since a professional team from Portland visited the area to spark a Pacific Northwest rivalry.

That will soon change.

But it’s not basketball — it’s soccer.

The Kitsap Pumas (3-0-1) secured a spot in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the country’s oldest soccer cup competition, with a 3-0 victory over the Cascade Surge in front of nearly 900 fans May 23 at Bremerton Memorial Stadium.

The Pumas will host the Portland Timbers of the United Soccer Leagues (USL) first division at 7 p.m. June 9 to open the Cup. The Timbers (3-1-3) are set to join Sounders FC in Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2011.

“It’s a very good quality of soccer,” Pumas owner Robin Waite said. “It’s the same quality soccer that the Sounders (USL Division I) played last year, if anybody knows what a good team we had.”

In fact, the USL first division is one step below MLS, making it the second-highest level of soccer in North America. Portland is currently in fourth place in its division.

The U.S. Open Cup, in its 96th year, dates back to 1914 and is among the oldest in the world. Similar to domestic cup competitions played throughout Europe and South America, it runs concurrent with the USL Premier Development League season, allowing teams such as the Pumas to face higher-ranked opponents when they otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to do so. It is open to all amateur and professional teams in the U.S.

“It’s very, very big for us,” Waite said. “It gives us more and more credibility, it allows us to market ourselves, it does tons of stuff for us.”

In a statement released by the club Tuesday, Executive Director Ben Pecora compared the Pumas-Timbers matchup to that of “David Goliath” scenario.

Regardless, the Pumas are one of eight USL PDL teams to qualify for the Cup, joining the Chicago Fire, El Paso Patriots, Mississippi Brilla, Ocean City Barons, Orange County Blue Star, Reading Rage and St. Louis Lions. Forty clubs compete in the Cup, with MLS teams beginning play in the third round.

“Just getting into the qualifying was huge,” Waite said. “For a first-ever team, I’m not sure that anybody else has done that and made it through.”

Waite, who remembers a match a few years ago when Portland brought two or three bus loads of fans to Seattle, said he hopes to see a similar showing in Kitsap, although with the game being played on a Tuesday he wasn’t sure how many fans could — or would — make the trip north.

“The Portland fans are just fantastic. They are bar-none the best fans in the (United Soccer League first division),” Waite said. “They support the team well, they’re loud, they’re vocal and they just have a lot of fun. They make the opposing teams’ life miserable, which is the whole basis.”

Against the Surge May 23, captain Stephen Mohn scored on a blast from 35 yards out to give the Pumas a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute. Tony Kerr added a goal in the 42nd minute, as did Mark Lee in the 78th.

The win put the Pumas in a three-way tie for first place with the Seattle Wolves and Portland Timbers U23 in the USL PDL Western Conference Northwest Division. Each club has 10 points.

The Pumas face the Wolves at Starfire Complex in Yakima at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

Tickets for the U.S. Open Cup game against the Timbers are $10 for covered seating and $7 for all other seats. Children 4 years old and younger and existing Pumas season-ticket holders will be admitted free of charge.

For more information, contact Pecora at (360) 377-6008.

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