Tuesday, October 1, 2013

100th U.S. Open Cup Final: Preview and Prediction

The 100th edition of the U.S. Open Cup ends tonight as Real Salt Lake hosts D.C. United for a 9p.m. ET start.

On paper, it is a lopsided affair as Salt Lake comes in with an excellent MLS record and D.C. United the worst MLS record.  With a sold-out, boisterous Utah crowd awaiting (typically one of the best crowds to be counted on from game to game in MLS) and a team kicking around good ball, D.C. has its challenges to overcome for the upset.

For many years, the Open has been considered an underdog's event. D.C. has that in its favor and it has tradition.

D.C. United is the Green Bay Packers of MLS.  They were the big early winners of the League.  They were the finalist in the first four MLS Cups, winning three Cup titles.  In the League's first year, they pulled off the rare double, winning both the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup.  Since, they have appeared in three other U.S. Open Cup finals, winning one other time.

As an underdog event, typically it has meant teams from lower tiered divisions rising up to surprise higher leveled teams and moving on.  In recent years, a Division II team has surprised the U.S. soccer world by making the finals, like the Charleston Battery in 2008, or even winning the Cup, as the Rochester Rhinos did in 1999.

This year's event is special because of the longevity realized.  100 years is not usually associated with anything soccer in America.  But, it's not a lie.  The history is undeniable.

It is time for this event to take a more special place on the calendar with U.S. sports fans.  The U.S. Open Cup compares well to the NCAA Men's Basketball event, but how can this bracketology become better branded?

There's no clear answer on how it gets accomplished, but the 'event status' is there to be taken advantage of.  (I suggested the Cup Final should be played the day after the MLB All-Star game.)

Salt Lake is in virgin territory.  They may bend a little, but they won't break.

As for D.C., it is the single biggest game of their season.  It's nice to even have something this special happen in a season so pitifully displayed in MLS. (This is the beauty of soccer and being eligible to win three different championships every year, MLS, U.S. Open and CONCACAF Champions and a Supporters' Shield-that is like a fourth.)

This title is a little more extra special than the typical U.S. Open Cup.  The name engraved on this one is the 100th champ.  Expect a hard fought battle, especially as D.C. comes in with its best players rested and not having played over the weekend.  Maybe D.C. scores an early goal and puts some pressure on Salt Lake, but Salt Lake's skill will wear D.C. down and they will win going away, 3-1.

Check for television viewing and for 100 years of U.S. Soccer anecdotes, brackets, controversies, trivia, boycotts and more.

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