Part of what makes knockout-style tournaments so enjoyable is their unpredictable nature. As was so wonderfully illustrated in this year's U.S. Open Cup, a team can thoroughly dominate its opponent, and fail to advance. One bad bounce here, one penalty kick there and suddenly, the better team is sitting on the sidelines watching the rest of the tournament.
It's this kind of unpredictability that makes what the Seattle Sounders have already accomplished so impressive. By beating Chivas USA in the Open Cup semifinals, the Sounders advanced to their fourth straight final. Only once in the previous 98 editions of the tournament has a team done that, and the Sounders will be trying to become the first to ever win four straight.
In many ways, their latest run to the finals was their most impressive. Not only did they outscore their four opponents 15-2 (that's an average of nearly four goals per game, people) but they did it against some pretty decent competition. Their biggest, and most impressive, win was going on the road to beat the Supporters' Shield-leading San Jose Earthquakes. That win came on just one full day of rest and was immediately following a highly emotional loss to the Portland Timbers.
That was the same Timbers team, by the way, who lost to Cal FC in the third round. That's the same Cal FC that the Sounders pasted 5-0 the following week.
The Chivas USA team the Sounders beat was no pushover, either. They came into the game having allowed just one goal during their previous three Open Cup games, had shut out each of their last two MLS opponents and had given up fewer goals than all but two other MLS teams this year. The Sounders simply went about slicing them open from nose to pelvis in a game that easily could have ended 7-1 if not for some absolutely spectacular saves from goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and a questionable offside call that waved off another goal.
That the Sounders made this all look so relatively easy probably helps diminish what they've done. But it's worth putting it all into a greater context.
We now know that the only other team to advance to at least four straight Open Cup finals was Stix, Baer and Fuller FC, who actually accomplished that feat under three names. The Hullrungs, as they were nicknamed, actually advanced to six straight finals from 1932-1937, playing under the names St. Louis Breweries and St. Louis Shamrocks.
The accomplishment isn't just rare for the Open Cup, either. Among the English, German, French, Italian and Spanish equivalents of the Open Cup, only Real Madrid (1905-1908), Athletic Bilbao (1930-33), Inter Milan (2005-08) and Lille OSC (1945-49) have advanced to at least four consecutive finals. Of those, only Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao managed to win four straight Copa Del Reys.
Whether or not the Sounders' accomplishment deserves to be held in the same regard as those is obviously an open question, but the point is that knockout tournaments do not lend themselves to uninterrupted runs of excellence like what we're seeing here.
Of course, it's very much not over yet.
For the Sounders to really enter elite company, they'll need to finish it off with a win on Aug. 8 at Livestrong Sporting Park. Of their four trips to the finals, this is undeniably the most challenging. Their first title was on the road, but it was against a D.C. United team that was starting to tailspin. Their second title was against a very good Columbus Crew team, but it was at home. Their most recent title was against the only MLS team with more Open Cup titles, but the Chicago Fire didn't even make the playoffs.
Sporting Kansas City, on the other hand, is in the midst of what promises to be a very impressive run of their own. Since opening up their palace of a stadium last year, they've been among the best teams in MLS. The roughly 20,000-seat stadium will almost surely be sold out and as tense of an environment as either team has probably ever experienced.
It's a final that promises to crown a very deserving champion. It couldn't be any better.