Wednesday could be a record setting night in American soccer. In the 99-year history of the U.S. Open Cup, the country's longest running tournament, no team has ever won the competition in four consecutive years, but that could change on Wednesday when the Seattle Sounders, three-time U.S. Open Cup defending champions, head to Livestrong Sporting Park to take on Sporting Kansas City in the 2012 final.
Consider that -- in the last 99 years, no team has been able to do what the Sounders might do on Wednesday in winning four straight titles. Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles, each the five-time winners, couldn't do it. No other MLS team has even won two consecutive Open Cups, let alone three or four. The Sounders are truly in rarified air, with a chance to reach heights no team in the last near-decade has ever reached in American soccer.
But it won't be easy for Seattle. Not only will they be facing a Sporting side that is doing better than them in MLS play this season with 40 points to Seattle's 37, but they will have to do it in front of what is expected to be a hostile partisan crowd.
Kansas City used to be one of MLS's laughingstocks, playing in a minor league baseball stadium that they couldn't even fill, spent years finishing fourth, fifth or sixth in the East and being largely irrelevant in its own city. That all changed when OnGoal bought the club. They rebranded the club and invested money in it, most notably in building Livestrong Sporting Park, a $200 million stadium that is the envy or every club in the league.
Part of that investment also went into the soccer staff and players and it has paid off in results. The team went to the Eastern Conference final a year ago, are among the best teams in MLS this year, but the ownership's overhaul won't be complete until they have a trophy, which they go for at home on Wednesday in the Open Cup final.
But if they are to win the Cup, they will have to do it despite a rash of injuries. Roger Espinoza is back from a superb Olympics with Honduras but he injured his clavicle and his status for the final is up in the air. The same is true of C.J. Sapong, who has a hip flexor injury and Chance Myers has been out with a groin strain. To top it all off, Aurelien Collin is suspended for the match so Sporting have more than their share of adversity to overcome.
That isn't true of the Sounders, whose biggest obstacle in terms of players is deciding whether they want to give newly signed Designated Player Christian Tiffert his first start in the final. All is well in Sounderland after they thrashed the Galaxy, 4-0, on Sunday and they enter as the favorites, a good omen for a club aiming for history, but this final is what Sporting has built for -- to play for a trophy in front of a packed house at their shiny new stadium.
More than anything, this is what U.S. soccer has hoped for. One team is aiming for history, another is trying to complete what was essentially a resuscitation of a club and it will take place at a jewel of a stadium right in the heart of the country.