On Tuesday, John Klein will attend his first U.S. Open Cup final since 1987 – the one he played in.
Klein was a member of the Mitre Eagles, an amateur power around Seattle at the time, who advanced to the Cup final near St. Louis. There, the Eagles lost on penalty kicks to Club Espana of Washington, D.C.
“Unfortunately, my brother (Peter) was sick all night the night before, and he didn’t get to play in the final,” Klein said. “For me, that’s probably the reason why we didn’t win that game. We pretty much dominated, but were unable to score. I was the fifth penalty-kick taker, but unfortunately, I did not get to take a kick because we lost on the kick just before mine. But it’s a good life lesson. Either team could have won.”
No official attendance is available for that game, but Klein estimates the crowd at 1,000 to 2,000 – “which was pretty good for the time.”
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Times have changed.
A U.S. Open Cup-record crowd of about 30,000 is expected at Qwest Field at 7 p.m. Tuesday when Seattle Sounders FC attempts to defend its title against fellow a MLS team, the Columbus Crew.
“I think that was always our hope and our dream, to be able to play in front of a whole big stadium,” Klein said. “But we were nowhere near close to that back then.”
How far away were they?
“Both the first- and second-place (1987 Open Cup finishers) got to play in this CONCACAF Champions League, so we got to go down to Mexico City and we played against Cruz Azul the next year,” Klein said. “We ended up losing to them in the home-and-home (series). We tied them here (and lost badly in Mexico City.) But to illustrate the difference, when they came here, each of our team players had to go out and try to sell tickets.”
The Open Cup determines the champion of all adult amateur and professional clubs affiliated with U.S. Soccer and is the oldest soccer competition in the country.
Since the first Open Cup in 1914, the largest attendance recorded at a final was a crowd of 21,583 that turned out in Brooklyn, N.Y., to watch New York Hakoah and Madison Kennel Club of St. Louis in 1929.
In the tournament’s modern era – since MLS clubs began participating in 1996 – the record is a crowd of 19,164 that turned out in Chicago to watch the Fire and Miami Fusion in 2000.
Advance sale for Tuesday topped those marks about three weeks ago.
“It’s very exciting,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “ To be able to push 30,000 – maybe over 30,000 – for any one of these games is in my opinion a feat – especially when you look at these tournaments historically and how they’ve sold. From that perspective, we’re very happy with the progress and the process. More importantly, we’re excited to play for a championship in front of what will be a 30,000-plus crowd, and hopefully be able to lift a trophy and thank our fans with a championship.”
The Sounders returned to training Sunday at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. They ended with a spirited penalty kick competition. If the Sounders and Crew are even at the end of regulation in the Open Cup final, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. If the score remains tied, the championship will be determined by PKs. Coach Sigi Schmid said his team is in good health. However, he said the club hasn’t yet determined whether reserve goalkeeper Terry Boss will return from duty with the Puerto Rican national team in time for the final. And if he does not, the club hasn’t yet identified its emergency keeper. The Sounders return to MLS play Saturday at Kansas City. They will clinch a spot in the playoffs if they win or draw against the Wizards.