The Northwest Passages: Open up for the Open Cup

The Sounders have an excellent track record in American soccer's longest-running competition, but opponent Philadelphia has some tradition too.
The Seattle Sounders are in the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

For the fifth time in six years, that sentence is true. To find another club which took to the USA's national cup with such success so quickly, you'd have to go back to the 1960s, and the Philadelphia Ukranians, or almost to the competition's beginnings and Bethlehem Steel. Which makes Seattle's opposition in the final, the Philadelphia Union, a much more intriguing proposition.

The great draw of the Open Cup in the modern era has been its connection to the past, its direct line connecting history — a garbled, partly forgotten, partly imagined and long-ignored history, but our history — with the modern American game and all its accompanying inferiority complexes.

It's one of the few things in U.S. soccer where fans could look around the world, at elite nations with tradition-drenched clubs and say "yeah, we've got that too." Before Benfica lifted its first trophy, the mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts, had seen half a dozen national cups lifted in its name. Coates Field in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, had hosted three finals by the time Wembley got around to having one.

The competition has carried a special allure for ambitious new fan-oriented Major League Soccer teams. Ten days after D.C. United became the league's first champion, it lifted its second-ever trophy in front of 7,234 people at RFK Stadium. The Chicago Fire took a special affinity to the competition, winning in their first year of existence and then three more times in the next eight. And of course, the Seattle Sounders became the first team to win the Open Cup three straight years when it entered MLS.

Philadelphia — one of the MLS clubs that most owes its very existence to its fan support — is aiming to be the next in that line, and to continue that long local tradition. Perhaps no region has won more Open Cups per capita than southeastern Pennsylvania.

Two regions rich with soccer history and passion will fight it out in the 101st edition of American soccer's longest-running competition. It's a fitting matchup for a wonderful, often under-appreciated jewel of a tournament.


Portland The Timbers brushed aside a timid and unimaginative Chivas USA side to make it three wins from four, and suddenly the strut is back in Caleb Porter's step. The Portland coach was confident, perhaps even bordering a tiny bit towards arrogant in his post-match news conference. Reality check: The Timbers have only recorded two shutouts this season, both against the Goats, and need to overtake two of the teams above them while holding off a late-season challenge from San Jose.

Coming up: The New England Revolution have lost nine of their last 10, so any self-respecting Western Conference playoff hopeful should really expect all three points. Although Colorado lost to the Revs two weeks ago. Maybe the Rapids have some self-esteem issues. Saturday, Aug. 16, 4:30 p.m. PT, MLS Live

Then it's off to South America, where the Timbers make their CONCACAF Champions League debut against Alpha United of Guyana. Tuesday, Aug. 19, 5 p.m. PT, Fox Soccer Plus.

Seattle — Not a bad week for the Emerald City. A 2-0 win over Houston to reassert the lead in the Shield race, and then a commanding, devastating 6-0 Open Cup thrashing of Chicago. For all his faults, Sigi Schmid has to be given credit for the way he's been able to get the best out of cast-off forwards in the last few years. Eddie Johnson, Lamar Neagle, Kenny Cooper, Chad Barrett - the Sounders have found effective depth, and even some starts, out of other clubs' waste. Picking up potential defender of the year Chad Barrett in a salary dump was no mean feat, either.

Coming up: A huge game, as the Sounders visit Real Salt Lake with the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield leads on the line. Saturday, Aug. 16, 11:30 a.m. PT, NBCSN.

After that, it's a short turnaround and a chance for revenge against the San Jose Earthquakes side which stole a win off Seattle at Levi's Stadium two weeks ago. Wednesday, Aug. 20, 7 p.m. PT.

Vancouver The winless run is over, finally, and in some fashion. The 'Caps dispatched the reigning MLS Cup champs to claim their first victory since July 5, and nudged back up above the red line.

Coming up: Chivas USA, even away, should be free points for any playoff contender. Saturday, Aug. 16, 7:30 p.m. PT, MLS Live.