Sounders fans, SCARVES UP! You should be pacing the streets of Seattle with blue and green wound around your neck today. No excuses. In fact, I don't care where you are-Seattle, Redmond, Bellingham, Spokane, Washington DC, Atlanta, London-you best be wearing your colors with pride. If I can walk through the streets of Portland in rave green, enduring the taunts of Timbers fans, then you have no excuse.
Unless you've been cut off from all forms of communication for the past month, you already know that tonight brings the Sounders' most important match of the season. Tonight, Seattle defends its first piece of Major League Soccer hardware: The U.S. Open Cup. And they do it on their home turf, against Columbus Crew, with tens of thousands of supporters turning up on a weekday night to cheer them on.
Some fans of MLS dismiss the importance of the Open Cup. They hold the Supporters Shield, won for holding the best record in the league, in higher esteem. They talk about how much more important it is to win the MLS Cup, the culmination of the league playoffs. And while I agree that taking league titles is certainly important, the Open Cup isn't something to turn up our noses at.
If you're a fan of English soccer at all, you'll recognize the arguments made against the League Cup. That many equate it to the Carling Cup, a trophy which most clubs relegate to third or even fourth place in their list of season priorities (depending on whether or not they're in European competition). I argue that the Open Cup is actually the U.S. version of the FA Cup, which clubs certainly do try and win. Even Chelsea, after winning the league title last season, played their best XI and were still ecstatic after beating freshly-relegated Portsmouth.
MLS supporters contend that the Open Cup means little because so many clubs use their second-string in early rounds of the competition. Of course they do-no club is going to field their best team for a midweek match against inferior competition. There's no shame in fielding a team that doesn't include stars and still going on to win the game. In fact, it shows exactly how strong certain clubs are, providing great examples of the way depth is a true indication of talent on the squad.
Like the FA Cup in England, the Open Cup gives its holder the opportunity to enter the continent's biggest competition. The Seattle Sounders were in the CONCACAF Champions League this season because they won the Open Cup last season. While the club failed to advance out of its group, it gave the Sounders experience in international competition, and keeping the trophy will allow the team back into the CCL next year, where they can hopefully build upon this season's performance.
Yet even if this trophy meant nothing except a shiny piece of silverware, the opportunity to hoist the Open Cup is thrilling. Last year, I was fortunate enough to watch my English side, Aston Villa, play against Manchester United in the Carling Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Despite the eventual loss, I had chills running up my spine the entire time. The feeling of a cup final is utterly unlike what a supporter feels at a regular match. The knowledge that everything hinges on that one match, that final scoreline, causes the adrenaline to pump in ways it never does during a regular season game.
So Sounders fans, I ask you: where will you be tonight? Tickets remain available. How many times have you seen your team raise a trophy? Do you really want to be the person who admits that you weren't there?
(For further reading on how trophies personally affect the life of a supporter, check out Aaron Campeau's Why This Means So Much)