US Soccer: 5 Reasons to Tune in to the U.S. Open Cup Tonight at 10pm EST

Sean BabcockCorrespondent IIOctober 4, 2011

US Soccer: 5 Reasons to Tune in to the U.S. Open Cup Tonight at 10pm EST

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    Tonight on Fox Soccer Channel at 10 p.m. EST, the Seattle Sounders will host the Chicago Fire in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, the longest-running soccer tournament in American history.

    The match is the perfect opportunity for American sports fans who know little about soccer to get their first taste of what the world's most popular game is all about, as two impressive MLS organizations go head to head for the historic title.

    The attacking play, the passionate Seattle fans, the possibilities of overtime and penalty shootouts—it all creates the perfect recipe for one of the most exciting nights of American soccer in recent memory.

    If you're already a part of the passionate American soccer subculture, then you already know that this is a can't-miss night of soccer action.

    If you're resisting that growing movement of soccer fanaticism, then here's five reasons to tune in and give the sport a chance.

Revitalization of the Tournament

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    The U.S. Open Cup has largely been regarded as a small fringe tournament among even the most devoted of American soccer fans, with its greatest appeal being the opportunity for amateur and lower-tier organizations to test their skills against the nation's best.

    But that's all beginning to change.

    Last year, as the Seattle Sounders won a bid to host the tournament final upon securing their semifinal victory over Chivas U.S.A., the organization made a bold decision to hold the match at the club's primary stadium, Qwest Field (now Century-Link Field) instead of the training facility where they traditionally played their Open Cup matches.

    The result was huge. More than 31,000 fans showed up to cheer for the home side, shattering the previous attendance record for the tournament by unimaginable margins. And those who attended the match will tell you that the atmosphere was more passionate than any match the stadium has ever held before or since.

    This year, Seattle won that bid again, and are expecting more than 35,000 fans at Century-Link Field tonight as Seattle takes on the Chicago Fire, hoping to break the attendance record for a second year running.

    With those sorts of figures, people start to take notice. The U.S. Open Cup is getting bigger by the year, and finally gaining respect from every corner of America.

Two Sides with a History of Open Cup Success

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    Who are the true modern champions of the longest-running soccer tournament in U.S. history?

    Both sides of tonight's matchup have a legitimate claim to that title, having secured six trophies between them in the past 13 years.

    The Chicago Fire won the tournament in 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2006, while the Seattle Sounders have won the past two years in a row and hope to become the first team to complete a thee-peat in the tournament in four decades.

    While some sides have failed to take the Cup seriously in recent years, both of these teams have recognized and understood its true potential as a valuable competition in U.S. soccer, and its long-standing historical significance to the sport in North America.

    They are both out to prove that they are the team to beat both in the recent past, and in the many years to come as more and more clubs begin to see the Open Cup as an honorable achievement and valuable addition to their trophy cases.

Seattle's Offense Is Wildly Entertaining to Watch

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    While Chicago's run to the Open Cup final can hardly be taken lightly after outlasting dozens of other clubs to get to where it is tonight, it will be entering the match as undisputed underdogs in the tournament final.

    And for good reason. Seattle's offensive production has been the most potent in Major League Soccer so far this season, leading the league in goals scored and outshooting opponents by impressive margins week in and week out.

    There is some question about how effective its attacking game will be if it is unable to field its star midfielder Mauro Rosales, a spunky little Argentine playmaker with footwork and speed that even gave Manchester United trouble when they visited Seattle for a friendly in July. Rosales has been out for two weeks with an injury and is still questionable for tonights match (though the club remains hopeful).

    For those American sports fans who criticize the game of soccer with misconceptions about its entertainment value and insist that it's "boring" without ever giving it a shot, I challenge you to use tonight as your opportunity to see what it's all about.

    I've yet to meet a single person who has witnessed Seattle's ability to build attacks and sneak behind defenses to score in front of a roaring home crowd who still maintained that the game was "boring" afterwards.

Tie Game? Not an Option.

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    Another common criticism in America regarding the game of soccer is the fact that league matches can end in a draw, with no overtime to decide a conclusive victor.

    This is no league match. There will be no draws.

    If Seattle and Chicago finish the 90 minutes with a tied score, there will be two 15-minute halves of overtime, which always creates an extra element of excitement as attacking players strive to dig deep for that last little bit of endurance to beat out exhausted defenders for the winning goal.

    If the result is still tied after that overtime period, then the match comes down to a penalty shootout—one of the most nail-biting moments in professional sports. It's one on one, kicker vs. goalkeeper, with the best performing team out of five chances lifting the trophy.

    Of course, the chances of this happening are fairly slim, but the point stands: There will be no 0-0 or 1-1 scorelines in Seattle tonight.

A Champions League Berth on the Line

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    For the soccer uninitiated, there is a lot for you to learn coming in to this match. Like baseball, football, and basketball, American soccer boasts a popular domestic league that eventually crowns an overall champion at the end of the season.

    But unlike those sports, winning the title is just the first step in a much larger goal.

    When clubs achieve certain domestic victories, such as winning the MLS Cup or the U.S. Open Cup, they earn their way into an international tournament to compete against the best sides in the domestic leagues of every other country in North and Central America. This is called the Champions League.

    Every populous region of the world hosts an annual Champions League, with the European tournament earning some of the highest viewer ratings in all of sports. In America, the tournament hasn't quite reached that level, but it certainly could someday down the road.

    In any case, the winner of the U.S. Open Cup earns the right to represent America on an international level against fearsome soccer nations like Mexico in the Champions League tournament. And the winner of that tournament advances even further, competing against the winners of all the other Champions League competitions around the world in the FIFA Club World Cup.

    So, this match tonight is about so much more than just trophies and bragging rights. It's about taking the first step in a multi-year journey to prove that America can truly compete on the world stage.

    And it all starts tonight.