SEATTLE—More than a year after some harsh words for U.S. Soccer, the Seattle Sounders FC get their chance at winning a championship before their home fans.
The Sounders host the Columbus Crew in the 2010 U.S. Open Cup final Tuesday night.
A year ago, the Sounders felt slighted when D.C. United was awarded the final, leaving Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer to engage in a media war of words with United president Kevin Payne. Seattle walked away with the satisfaction of a 2-1 victory and its first championship in its inaugural season.
There's no such need for harsh criticism this time around. Even before their semifinal win over Chivas USA, the Sounders knew a spot in the finals meant a home match before their rabid fans.
"I've never really had the opportunity to win the championship at home and if we did it at home it was in front of a small crowd," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. "But definitely this is going to be a very unique and a very special feeling."
Seattle is expected to have 25,000-plus fans at Qwest Field on Tuesday night when it tries to become the first back-to-back Open Cup champion since the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms won consecutive titles in 1982 and '83, long before the creation of Major League Soccer. MLS teams have won the last 10 Open Cup titles. The event has some charm but is usually ignored outside the hardcore soccer community.
But Seattle has taken the competition seriously from the start and the Sounders enter the final as arguably the hottest American club.
On top of going undefeated in U.S. Open Cup matches the past two years, Seattle has resurrected a season that was filled with dysfunction and disappointment for the first few months. After finding themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference earlier this summer, the Sounders have gone 10-1-3 against domestic competition the past three months and are undefeated in eight matches at home during that stretch (6-0-2).
At one point in July, Seattle was on the verge of falling far enough back in the MLS playoff race that any thoughts of the postseason would seem outlandish. Now they're firmly entrenched in playoff position, two points clear of San Jose for the final wild card playoff spot and 11 points in front of ninth-place Kansas City.
"We want to make things easier on ourselves. We want to make sure no one develops a heart condition on the team. That everyone is good," Schmid said after Seattle's 3-2 win over Toronto on Saturday. "We set the goal. I've always felt for me that the magic number is 45. It gets you there for sure, I think. It's a game, a point and half per game and we're within striking distance of that."
Columbus already has its MLS playoff spot secured and could end up the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the third straight year.
This will be the third Open Cup finals appearance for the Crew, who lost to Chicago in the 1998 final, before beating Los Angeles 1-0 in 2002. Crew coach Robert Warzycha was a player/assistant coach in 2002 for Columbus and entered in the 90th minute of the win over L.A., preserving the victory with a clearance off the goal line in stoppage time.
The Crew are coming off a 0-0 draw with San Jose on Saturday, which clinched their playoff spot.
"We created some chances but didn't score," Warzycha told reporters afterward. "That was the game. Maybe we're saving the goals for Tuesday."