Today starts a rather historic week for the Seattle Sounders. Win or lose, they become just the second team to even play for a fourth straight U.S. Open Cup title and could become the first to win four straight.
Winning four straight domestic titles is something no team in England, France, Germany or Italy has ever done. Only two teams in Spain, and none since 1933, have accomplished that.
There will surely be those that want to diminish the Sounders' accomplishment, but there really is no reason we should feel defensive.
Even accepting that the Open Cup could be improved, it's absolutely worth noting that the Sounders' path to four straight title games has been no easier than it was for the teams that came before them.
In fact, this year's run would go down as one of the toughest during the MLS history of the tournament.
- If the Sounders were to win on Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park, that would be their second road win over a MLS team. Since MLS teams started participating in the Open Cup in 1996, no champion has ever managed to do that. No champion has ever won more than two road games on their path to the title and they would be just the fifth team to win that many.
- The Sounders would become just the fifth team to win an Open Cup final on the road, equalling their feat in 2009, as was as those of the New England Revolution (2007), Chicago Fire (2003) and Rochester Rhinos (1999).
- Sporting KC is the third MLS opponent they've faced in this tournament. Only two teams have played as many as four MLS teams on their way to the title and some champions have played as few as one.
- This would be the Sounders' fourth Open Cup title, which would tie them with the Fire for most among MLS teams. As a point of comparison, the Fire and Sounders both faced 12 MLS opponents during the title runs, but Chicago only played four road games, while Seattle will have had to play five.
- Sporting KC currently sports a 1.74 points per match during the MLS regular season. Only one of the previous 16 champions (the Dallas Burn in 1997) beat a team that ended the regular season with a better PPM. The 2010 Columbus Crew qualify as the fourth best team (as determined by season-ending PPM) to ever lose an Open Cup final.
- The Sounders' four Open Cup finals opponents have a combined PPM of 1.49. Among the other 11 MLS teams to win the tournament while an MLS opponent in the final, the collective PPM was 1.40.
- Just in case someone wants to discount the Sounders' run of dominance based on their playing games at Starfire, it's also worth pointing out that seven of the previous champions played at least one of their home games at a secondary facility.
- The Sounders have a chance to beat the Supporters' Shield winner on their way to the title for a third straight year. In the 14 previous years of MLS playing in the tournament, a total of four teams beat the eventual Shield winner on the way to the title.
One more note: Detractors like to point out that the Sounders have achieved this run at least partially due to the fact that they rarely go on the road. That ignores the reality that this year alone, seven MLS teams lost Open Cup games at home, including four against lower-division teams. During the Sounders four-year run, 13 MLS teams have lost home games.
Regardless of what you think of the Open Cup, there's no way around the fact that the Sounders have done exceptionally well playing within the same rules that every other champion has. In many cases, they've even exceeded those marks.