Only three teams in the history of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup have managed to win three titles in a row. On October 4 at CenturyLink Field, the Sounders FC will look to become the fourth – and the first Major League Soccer club to do so - when they host the Chicago Fire in the final of the tournament.
After already winning 2-1 over DC United at RFK Stadium in 2009 and 2-1 at CenturyLink Field last year against the Columbus Crew, Seattle has a chance to collect their third piece of silverware in just three seasons at the MLS level.
“It shows the tremendous organization that we’ve put together from Sigi on down – the players and the support,” owner/GM Adrian Hanauer said after the Sounders outlasted FC Dallas for a 1-0 win at Starfire Sports Stadium on Tuesday in the tournament semifinal. “You don’t get these kinds of wins without a lot of people and things clicking on all cylinders. It’s a good group win and obviously we like playing here as well.”
In 98 years of US Open Cup play, just the Fall River Marksmen (1930-1932), Stix Baer and Fuller (1933-1935) and Greek American SC (1967-1969) have accomplished the feat of winning the tournament three years in a row.
In doing so, they have won 11 matches in the Open Cup, as well as two Open Cup qualifiers in 2009. Nine of those 13 matches associated with the Open Cup have been played at Starfire, where Seattle has bid aggressively to host matches and the club garners a strong advantage. The reasons range from the travel, the familiarity and, perhaps most of all, the close proximity of the over 4,500 fans that pack the stadium to support the Sounders FC.
“We were, I think, a little bit intimidated by the whole event,” said FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman, who is hardly the first opposing coach to express a loathing for the variables at a stadium like Starfire that are difficult to prepare for.
The Sounders, meanwhile, are grateful to their ownership group for putting the extra effort to make sure that Starfire can host as many matches as possible to further the chances the team can advance because of the distinct home-field advantage.
“The organization has this environment for us to be able to play in. There are a lot of reasons we’re in our third final and it’s just a great credit to the whole club,” Kasey Keller said. “Thanks to them and now hopefully we can reward everybody with our third in a row.”
While seating was limited at Starfire, there is less concern about the possibility of selling out CenturyLink Field when the two teams clash there in the final. Last year’s match drew a whopping 31,311 fans to watch the Sounders hoist their second-straight trophy and the team hopes to exceed that mark this time around.
“It’s great for our fans. There are going to be some fans that wanted to see this game that can now come and see a final,” Hanauer said. “It’s also rewarding all of these fans who’ve stuck with us and come out to Starfire and get their tickets early and get here two hours early. It’s very exciting.”
Of the four trophies the Sounders are in contention for – the Supporters’ Shield for the best record in MLS, the MLS Cup, the Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League – each provide a different challenge.
What makes the Open Cup special, beyond its longstanding history, is the do-or-die nature of the tournament.
“We always want to put trophies in there and to be a team to three-peat is something we’ve got to be proud of because these games are one and done. It’s not like if we have a bad game we can come back next week and regroup,” Schmid said. “So, I’m very proud of what our team has done.”
And while motivation in the Open Cup has never been an issue for the Sounders, they may have a little bit extra in the tank for the match against Chicago in October. The chance to make MLS history is definitely on their minds.
“It’s definitely very motivating and we’re all very happy,” forward Fredy Montero said. “It’s not every team that can experience something like that three times in a row.”