SEATTLE – On a Tuesday night in Seattle, the identity crisis and inferiority complex that has plagued the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in recent years was nowhere to be found.
Some in MLS circles have called the tournament a waste of time and a second-rate competition. But those phrases were likely never uttered by the 31,311 fans at Qwest Field who did not budge from their seats for the Open Cup trophy presentation.
And the Open Cup surely wasn’t a fruitless exercise for the players on both the Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew. They battled tooth and nail for every ball and ran like their lives depended on it.
Then there was the champagne spray, the hoopla and hollering from the Sounders locker and the long faces dragging to the Crew bus. The USOC meant something.
Nothing manufactured there.
And so the Open Cup apologists and visionaries finally got their day of vindication. A well-played, nationally televised final in front of a packed, enthusiastic house: This was the way the tournament was meant to be played, its ultimate expression. It was reality and not just fantasy talk from the purists.
In the days leading up to the final, Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer addressed the dissenting voices around MLS that want the tournament abolished.
It has become clear that what those clubs are really saying is that they can’t figure out how to get it done like the new kids on the block from Seattle. They are unable to build a squad that is competitive enough on all fronts to win the trophy for two consecutive seasons.
“This competition was won by our whole squad,” Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “It didn’t matter what team was on the field. They stepped up and showed the pride for the club to come out and win every time. And that’s not so with a lot of other teams in this league.”
Sounders manager Sigi Schmid sent a message to those teams that have chosen to complain about the additional midweek fixtures dedicated to the Open Cup: If you don’t like it, don’t participate.
“Teams out there say they don’t take the Open Cup seriously,” Schmid said. “If you’re not going to take something seriously, don’t enter it. Just stay away.”
And so this two-year old team, which gave itself the luxury of starting the Open Cup final with a Designated Player on the subs list while Sanna Nyassi ran rampant, has frankly left some of the more established dissenting clubs with egg on their face.
“It [winning back-to-back] sets us apart and makes us unique,” Schmid said. “This is what we wanted to be - something special and different. Hopefully we can build on that culture.”
For a tournament so desperately needing a shot in the arm and tangible evidence of what it could become, it got a lasting boost on October 5, 2010, as the Sounders edged past the Crew, 2-1.
It was a final that was even capable of evoking its 96-year history.
The Sounders made it their mission to match the New York Pancyprian Freedoms, who defended their title in the early 80s. Organizers also celebrated surpassing the 1929 attendance record for a USOC final, dusting off the once obscure match between New York Hakoah and Madison Kennel Club of St. Louis at Dexter Park in Brooklyn.
Qwest Field saw a soccer event that will rival any to be played or to have been staged this year.
No doubt there will be new discussions among soccer officials about how to make the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup as meaningful as it was on Tuesday. But until then, who will have the gall to speak out against it now?