Sounders go for U.S. Open Cup four-peat
First, it really is unprecedented. And that's no small thing in a tournament that has been played for 99 years, making it the oldest annual team tournament in the United States.
"This is a great opportunity for us (tonight) to do something very special," coach Sigi Schmid said. "As I said to the players: 'You can bring your grandkids here and say, 'That's me up there. Those are our four Open Cup trophies that we won in a row.'"
What Seattle already has accomplished is rare enough. Last season, it became the first club to win three straight Open Cup titles in 42 years -- since the New York Greek-Americans made a run from 1967 to 1969.
The only other three-peaters are the Fall River (Mass.) Marksmen who won in 1930 and '31 before moving to nearby New Bedford and winning again in 1932 as the Whalers. The same St. Louis club won three straight from 1933 to '35 under three different names: St. Louis Stix, Baer & Fuller, and St. Louis Central Breweries.
Such runs are rare because this is a single-elimination tournament. One bad game, one hot goalkeeper, one missed call can knock you out. And yet, the Sounders have walked the wire without a net for 18 matches.
But in this unforgiving tournament, no 19th straight win means no fourth straight title.
"It's a testament to the players, but for sure the coaches: getting guys ready, motivated and believing in winning these one-off games," general manager Adrian Hanauer said. "… It's something I'm really proud of as an organization.
The second thing to keep in mind? Seven Sounders will be part of their fourth straight U.S. Open Cup final, but one will be in his fifth.
All-Star midfielder Osvaldo Alonso also played for the Charleston Battery when it lost to D.C. United in the 2008 final.
Tonight, Alonso becomes the first player in the tournament's modern era to appear in five straight finals.
"He absolutely hates to lose -- maybe more than anyone in our organization," Hanauer said of Alonso. "Those are the types of guys that help you win championships. … I don't think it's ever a coincidence when one or a group of players end up playing on championship teams. The players make the teams championship teams."
This season, Alonso was named player of the Open Cup semifinal round. Last season, he was selected player of the final.
He has four goals and two assists in the current tournament.
Sounders fans also must keep in mind that tonight's game won't be easy.
Kansas City is one of the top teams in Major League Soccer, and it's playing at home.
SKC got here by beating Orlando City, Colorado, the Dayton Dutch Lions and Philadelphia by a combined score of 10-4. They shut out both MLS opponents.
In MLS, Sporting is 12-7-4 and tied with Houston for the top of the Eastern Conference.
Midfielder Roger Espinoza has returned to the club after playing with the Honduran Olympic team. However, central defender Aurélien Collin is ineligible due to yellow-card accumulation, while wingers Bobby Convey (hamstring) and Jacob Peterson (shoulder) are listed as doubtful.
Kansas City's home-pitch advantage tonight came from winning a secret coin toss after making a closed bid that U.S. Soccer considered equal to the Sounders bid.
Seattle hosted the final in 2009 and 2010, drawing 31,311 and 35,615 respectively.
Capacity of SKC's Livestrong Sporting Park is listed at 18,467. Tickets remained available as of Tuesday.
Kansas City won the Open Cup in 2004, when the club was known as the Wizards.
Finally, there must be a result. The Sounders and Sporting Kansas City played to a 1-1 draw in Seattle back in June.
If the match is tied at the end of regulation this time around, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. If the score remains even, the champion will be determined by penalty kicks.
Other basics: The teams are limited to five foreign players on their 18-man game-day roster. The tournament winner traditionally qualifies for the following season's CONCACAF Champions League.
U.S. Soccer awarded the broadcast rights to tonight's U.S. Open Cup championship to GolTV. Because of the lack of general accessibility to that cable channel, the Sounders have arranged several viewing parties around the area.
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