Taylor Graham Image

He's not in Kansas anymore

Taylor Graham won two USL titles with the Seattle Sounders and three Open Cup titles with the Sounders FC, but will always remember the first one at Arrowhead Stadium with the Kansas City Wizards.

Leading up to their second ever appearance in the US Open Cup final, Sporting Kansas City has a promotional video that features Kei Kamara watching footage of their 2004 US Open Cup title.

The clips of Igor Simutenkov putting the decisive free kick into the back of the net bring back memories for Sounders FC manager of business operations Taylor Graham.

"It's a bit closer to home seeing those ads," said Graham, who was then a reserve defender for the Kansas City Wizards.  "They have some pride and tradition.  The last time they won a championship was 2004 in the Open Cup.  They see that and they want to accomplish that."  

The retired Sounders defender frequently came off the bench to play right back for the Wizards.  He would play 17 matches that year, starting seven of them.

The most memorable moment, though, came on September 22.

It had been a difficult season for the Wizards, as their captain, former Tacoma Star Preki, suffered a broken leg during preseason.  Without the focal point of their 3-5-2 formation, the Wizards were forced to switch to a 4-4-2.

"Our style of play and our team was so Preki-centric," Graham said.  "Next thing you know, we're about to start the season and our personality changed completely.  We weren't sure what type of team we were going to be.  We started to have a lot of success as a blue-collar team."

They quickly found success in their new formation, powered by the combination of Davy Arnaud and Josh Wolff.  With victories over the Atlanta Silverbacks, Dallas Burn and San Jose Earthquakes along the way, the Wizards were on a collision course with the Fire in the final.

Graham came on for Jack Jewsbury in the 68th minute, shifting defender Alex Zotinca into the midfield.  After 90 minutes, though, the match remained scoreless, so they advanced to golden-goal overtime.

"It was a back and forth game, but nobody wanted to make any mistakes," Graham said.  "Igor Simutenkov hit a free kick and the next thing I know, I see the goalie dive to his right and it bounces up and it hits off the roof of the net and we realized it was over and we won the championship.  That's the beauty about golden goal – you don't have to worry about tactics when you score.  It's just pure emotion."

They went on to post the best record in the Western Conference and beat the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference finals, before losing to DC United in MLS Cup.

Graham would go on to win two USL titles with the Sounders and three Open Cup titles with the Sounders FC, but will always remember the first one at Arrowhead Stadium.

"That was my first professional championship and to be frank I was lucky," Graham said.  "It was my first of six, but something about that first one is special."