Great matchup Tuesday night in the Open Cup final. From a historical perspective, there was a guaranteed winner. Appropriately, the match was between the two teams that respect the tournament the most. From that point of view, it was a guaranteed win-win for the fans. Well, for the fans who are American soccer fans, but who don't have a formed opinion on either the Sounders or the Fire - not a terribly high crossover, given how the two franchises have worked to achieve devotion from both fans and enemies. But this is not the time for partisanship - it's to celebrate that for the first time in decades, the Open Cup has produced competitors that can take their place alongside Fall River and Bethlehem Steel.
Had the Fire won, it would have been a marker for the future. They've quietly put together a respectable second half, almost climbing out of the hole Carlos de los Cobos led them into. Whether you want to give credit to Pavel Pardo, Frank Klopas, or Dominic Oduro - hey, knock yourself out, I'm not gonna be a jerk about it. Look out for Chicago next year, if the Eastern Conference stays crummy (which it should, with yet another expansion team arriving) (and if the Fire don't end up trying to defend their 2001 Central Division title, what with realignment and unbalancing). (Other people were way ahead of me on this, unsurprisingly.)
But this is the present, not the future, so it's the Seattle Sounders that we must praise with great praise. I don't want to get into the whole bid controversy nonsense....
Actually, belay that, yes I do. MLS teams have shown commitment above and beyond the call of convenience since pro teams rejoined the tournament. And there are no shortage of coaches and players who wouldn't mind seeing the Open Cup return to de facto amateur status. Yes, ideally the USSF would bear the burden of putting on this tournament, but it's not profitable to do so, outside the Pacific Northwest.
The bottom line is, the Sounders have shown enough respect for this tournament to put resources behind it, and it's up to other MLS teams to decide to follow that lead. (Apparently Real Salt Lake also tried, but omitted to win their games, so credit to the Royals for observing American soccer history).
The other thing the Sounders have proven is that it is in fact possible to make this tournament something besides a painful chore. Seattle got 35,000 fans to show up on a Tuesday night. So blaming the USSF for not supporting the Open Cup - something I've been guilty of in the past - looks kind of hollow.
The Sounders have some advantages other teams don't, but I can't think of a single team in the league that would lose money on a sold out game. Maybe in a few years, Sounders fans will be cloudy jaded (MLS 1.0 joke) like the rest of us, but it doesn't look like Soundersmania is diminishing yet. It's up to other MLS teams to figure out how to make money from these games, and, like Real Salt Lake, make their own workable bids. Then, down the road, the USSF can have random draws, because they know whoever hosts will be happy to have the game.
Seattle has proven that the Open Cup doesn't have to be reserved to hardcore historical nerds like myself. Since that's not only preserved the Open Cup, but given it new life, I'm thrilled with it. Putting up with gloating from the Rave Green Hive Mind is a small price to pay for keeping this tradition going.
If other MLS fans don't like it? Don't hate - congratulate. And emulate.
Picture from thecup.us - covering a tradition older than the National Football League. At this rate, the site's going to be rave green and electric yellow.