Congratulations to the Seattle Sounders on their 2-0 US Open Cup Final victory over the Chicago Fire last night. The Sounders win gives them their third straight Open Cup, and make them the first MLS team to every win three Open Cup titles in a row...but that's not what this is about.
Every single MLS supporter of a club other than Seattle should be thanking the Sounders today.
For years, we've heard an endless river of excuses from MLS executives, coaches and players about why it's just not possible to compete successfully in both the league and a cup tournament. In years past, this line of thinking had some level of truth since the league's roster regulations and salary restrictions severely limited the ability of MLS teams to build a proper roster capable of having enough depth to deal with a busy schedule. Even I used this excuse to defend the decision of team's to half-ass the Open Cup and while it may have been true then, it's not true now.
As the league has increased roster sizes and there are more workarounds for the salary cap (allocation money), there is no longer an excuse for any MLS team to not take the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League seriously. There's no longer an excuse for not being able to build a competitive roster capable of dealing with a busy schedule because the Seattle Sounders have marched through the 2011 season dealing with the same rules and injuries as nearly everyone else and they've barely missed a beat.
The Sounders are in the playoffs, with an outside shot at the Supporters Shield. They are Open Cup champions for the third straight year and they have qualified for the knockout stage of the 2011/12 CONCACAF Champions League (the first MLS team in this year's tournament to do so). Despite the schedule congestion and large amount of travel, the Sounders have somehow managed to not only survive, they've thrived. Instead of using the same old tired excuses we've heard some often from nearly every MLS team, they just went out and got results.
So often, MLS clubs treat the US Open Cup like an annoyance, sending weakened squads out to get the formality of participating over with before moving on to "more important" task. No matter how angered the fan base becomes, coaches and team presidents will spew the same old tired lines about wanting to focus on making the playoffs or some other generic nonsense. Hiding behind the idea that they just didn't have the ability to compete simultaneously on multiple fronts, teams would wave off fan concerns and go about their business.
There are no more excuses now for teams that in truth just don't want to bother with cup tournaments. The next time your favorite team's coach or president offers up some bullshit about why a team of reserves got beat 4-0 in the Open Cup with your head coach not even in attendance, just remind them that the Sounders managed to handle things just fine. It's one thing to make your best effort and lose, it's another to not even try.
From now on, it's our job to hammer them with the right questions. Why aren't we effectively scouting and ensuring that our signings are the type of players that can work the best in our system? Why can't our head coach manage lineups and balance player's workloads to maximize effectiveness? Why is our training staff not capable of making sure our player's stay fit and train properly to minimize preventable injuries? Why did a team of professional athletes just get ordered to throw a competitive match?
However you feel about the Sounders, they've done all MLS fans a favor, much to the chagrin of many team's front offices. We the fans have been given a new weapon to challenge the people our personal investment helps to support. All the corporate sponsors and television deals won't make any difference if there are no fans there to care. Remember what the Sounders have accomplished in 2011 and never let your favorite team forget it.