By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
For Fox Deportes
Someday, maybe, this game will mean a little more to a lot more people. But until that time, the truest of soccer fans must hope they have GolTV (bless that network’s heart for broadcasting this match) in order to view the 2012 U.S. Open Cup final, the championship of American soccer.
It’s two Major League Soccer clubs for the right to hoist the trophy in victory – the three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders on the road at Livestrong Sporting Park to play Sporting Kansas City Wednesday night at 8 p.m. CT.
After months of one-and-done games for teams from amateur adult leagues to lower-level professionals and all the way up to MLS, the last two standing are the Sounders and SKC. For Seattle, a win gives them an unprecedented fourth straight Open Cup title after wins in its inaugural season (2009) at Washington D.C. over DC United and home victories over the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire in 2010 and 2011.
Critics call this competition minor, even in the scope of American soccer. The MLS title and even the attendance-challenged CONCACAF Champions League matter more, the naysayers preach. But a trophy is a trophy (is a trophy, for the Sounders), and teams want to have a legacy and build a tradition.
Latino soccer fans who tune in should take interest in the Sounders’ Osvaldo Alonso (native of Cuba) and Mauro Rosales (Argentina), who lead the charge from the midfield. Alonso, an MLS All-Star this season, backs down from no one and sets the tone from his position on the field. A fierce competitor who can run for days, it seems, Alonso will have to support on defense against KC’s quality attackers.
Rosales is an assist man and set-piece specialist for the Sounders. Colombia native Fredy Montero is one of the prime targets at striker who is among the league leaders in shots and shots on goal. Additionally, Colombian defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Costa Rican national Leo Gonzalez could play vital roles on the backline. Montero, Hurtado, Gonzalez and Alonso have been with the club since its first season.
Sporting Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza just got back to the U.S. from England, where he played for Honduras in the Olympic soccer tournament. Espinoza is dealing with a shoulder injury from the Olympics.
“Roger is a beast though. He finds a way. He’s someone that is important to our team,” SKC coach Peter Vermes said Tuesday. “He’s a strong guy, but I just think it’s something we’ll have to assess as we get closer to the match (Wednesday night).”
The U.S. Open Cup final, for some reason, goes up against the Olympics in prime time and Real Madrid vs. AC Milan on ESPN2 from Yankee Stadium one hour before Open Cup kickoff, plus a lot of regional baseball action. The timing of the game might not be so great (it is usually played in September or October), but it’s worth watching beyond the two U.S. markets involved. These are two cities passionate about their soccer teams.
The winner Wednesday earns an automatic berth in the 2013 CONCACAF Champions League, the tournament for the North American region club championship. The Sounders just started playing matches in the 2012 CCL.
“It qualifies you for the Champions League, so at this stage of the season for us, we’ve played more games than any other team in MLS,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’ve had to juggle more, we’ve had to come through injuries and we’re healthier now. On the same token, when you add those games and you continue to see that we have success over three years in that competition… I think winning the Open Cup is a championship that should get a little more recognition than it does around the country.”