Major League Soccer clubs seem to be taking the U.S. Open Cup more seriously these days, but it could be that none take it more seriously than Chicago and Seattle.
Those two will meet tonight in the Open Cup final at CenturyLink Field.
A win by the Fire would be its fifth in the tournament, matching the Open Cup record. A win by the Sounders would make them the first MLS team to win three straight Cup titles.
“They’ve obviously won it four times, and we’d like to someday be able to say we’ve won it four times, or five times,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “Certainly competing against teams that take the tournament seriously is more of a challenge and adds a little interesting element to it.”
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid has said throughout the competition that he has noticed more MLS teams playing to win this season.
“They realize that the Open Cup is entree into the (CONCACAF Champions League),” he said. “Also, I think the CCL is taken more seriously because they see what kind of interest and notoriety it gave (runner-up) Salt Lake last year. I think everybody is a little bit more aware of that, so I think teams are taking both competitions more seriously.”
The Fire and Sounders have done so since their inaugural seasons. Regardless of which team wins tonight, these two franchises will have accounted for seven of the past 14 Open Cup titles.
Over its history, Chicago has gone 28-8-3 in U.S. Open Cup play, scoring a combined 73 goals and allowing 32. In finals, Chicago is 4-1, having won in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006, with the loss coming in 2004 at Kansas City.
“For us – I can’t speak for other teams – but for our organization this has been from the beginning when we get together and we set goals, the U.S. Open Cup is on top of that list and this is a tournament that we want to try to win every year,” Fire interim coach Frank Klopas said. “ Throughout the year, you make changes in the lineup and sometimes in games like that different players have to step up and play a part in helping you win those games. I’m fortunate and thankful in situations where that has happened this year for us. We’ve had guys step up and help us win and put us in this position now.”
The Sounders are undefeated in 13 Open Cup matches, including a couple of play-in games. They won the 2009 title with a 2-1 win at D.C. United, and they defended that last season with a 2-1 home win against Columbus.
Tonight they are trying to become the first club to win three straight Open Cups since New York Greek Americans swept from 1967-69.
“Our philosophy is: if we’re not going to try to win it, let’s not enter it,” Schmid said. “So whatever we’re going to enter, we’re going to try to win. We have goals as it relates to the MLS playoffs. We have goals as it relates to CONCACAF as well. But we also have goals as it relates to U.S. Open Cup. And the Open Cup is what has given us entree to the Champions League that’s further helped us establish our club not only in the minds of the United States, but in the minds of the CONCACAF region. So, winning these two Open Cups has been very important for the face of the club, for the recognition of our club, and for the confidence of the players.”
Sounders fans also have treated the competition seriously, and the crowd tonight is expected to top the Open Cup record of 31,311 set in the 2010 final.
“Awesome,” Sounders veteran Roger Levesque said. “The place is always rocking. It’s going to be no different (tonight), especially with a little extra intensity with the Cup kind of there for us. The fans will be behind us the whole way. I expect a great atmosphere.”
CHICAGO FIRE AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Fox Soccer. Radio: 97.3-FM
Head to head: Sounders FC leads 3-0-3, and 2-0-1 in Seattle. In this MLS regular season, the Sounders took a 2-1 win at home on April 9 and the clubs played to a scoreless draw at Chicago on June 4.
Notes: This is the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the U.S. Soccer Federation’s national championship, which is open to all amateur and professional soccer teams affiliated with U.S. Soccer. The tournament began in 1914. If the game is tied at the end of regulation, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. If the score remains even, the winner will be determined by penalty kicks. Four finals have gone into overtime since MLS joined the tournament in 1996. Chicago is 7-8-16 in this MLS regular season; Seattle is 16-6-9. The Fire is 4-1 in Open Cup finals, Seattle is 2-0. A Chicago win would match the competition-record fifth Open Cup title for the club. A Sounders win would make them the first MLS club to win three straight Open Cups. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson is the only member of the Fire to play every minute of Chicago’s Open Cup competition this season.
Next: The Sounders return to MLS regular-season play at 7 p.m. Saturday when the Philadelphia Union visits.
Don Ruiz, staff writer