Sounders FC

Seattle, D.C. United take U.S. Open Cup title game seriously

For now at least, Seattle Sounders FC has plenty of trophy cases, but no trophies.

“There are a variety of trophy cases at various locations around our organization,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said last week, citing Starfire Sports Complex, the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, and Qwest Field. “But we haven’t established once and for all where Sounders FC trophies may live long-term.”

So far, there has been no need. The expansion Sounders haven’t won any trophies. For that matter, neither has any other first-year Major League Soccer team since the Chicago Fire won the 1998 MLS Cup (playoff champion) and Supporters Shield (regular-season champion).

That could change Wednesday, when the Sounders meet D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. The game will be shown at 4:30 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel.

“It’s a special feeling,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “For this franchise, in its first year, to get to a final is already a great accomplishment. But we don’t want to be satisfied with that. We want to come back with the Cup. To be the first expansion team since Chicago to win hardware in its first year is definitely a goal we have.”

Winning one cup also could open the door to another. The Open Cup champion is expected to also be invited to the next CONCACAF Champions League Tournament.

For now, however, this cup final pairs a club with no trophies against a club with a dozen of them – the most in MLS.

Since joining the league as a charter member in 1996, United has won five MLS Cups, four Supporters Shields, one InterAmerican Cup, and two U.S. Open Cups, including last season’s.

“We are unquestionably the most successful American professional soccer team ever – by championships won,” United president Kevin Payne said.

And Payne thinks trophy cases are a better indicator of club success even than MLS Cups – with one qualification.

“With real trophies,” he said. “We certainly have a lot of phony trophies: friendly games and things of that nature, our Atlantic Cup competition with New York. My guess is you’ll end up with some kind of a three-way competition with Seattle, Vancouver and Portland, maybe a Northwest Cup that the fans will create. Those things are great, but obviously they don’t rise to the levels of the competitions that everybody’s in.

“MLS Cup, I guess, is probably the most important; although I really believe that in many ways the Supporters Shield is the real indicator of who’s the best team in a given year.”

Seattle has been involved in one competition for the kind of “phony” trophy that Payne describes: the Heritage Cup, which goes to the winner of head-to-head competitions between MLS teams still playing under their historic names from the North American Soccer League. This season, only two teams qualified – Seattle and San Jose – and the inaugural cup went to the Earthquakes.

Now the Sounders are a day away from trying for another, and the U.S. Open Cup meets Payne’s definition of a real trophy.

The tournament was created in 1914 as the National Challenge Cup. It is the oldest soccer tournament in the United States. Similar to England’s famed F.A. Cup, it is open to professional and amateur clubs through all levels of the United States Soccer Federation.

The Sounders played their way in with wins over Real Salt Lake and Colorado, and then advanced past Portland in the round of 16, Kansas City in the quarterfinals and Houston in the semifinals. All are MLS teams, except for Portland of the United Soccer Leagues.

United reached the final with wins over FC Dallas, New York Red Bulls, the Ocean City Barons of USL-2, Harrisburg City Islanders of USL-2 and Rochester Rhinos of USL-1.

“Open Cup has always been a big deal to me personally,” Payne said. “For many years, it was really the only national championship, or highest-level national championship. … It should be a bigger deal here than it is. We’ve always taken it seriously. Anytime we have a chance to win a trophy, we want to do that. It’s part of the way you keep score.”

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808