The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup offers tangible rewards that Seattle Sounders FC and the Philadelphia Union each want.
The teams will meet Tuesday with the Sounders going for their fourth Open Cup championship in six seasons, while the Union is aiming for the first hardware to put in its trophy case. The winning club also is awarded $250,000, has its name engraved on the Dewar Challenge Trophy, and qualifies for 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League.
Beyond all that, there are personal motivations at stake.
In the days leading up to the match, Sounders forward Kenny Cooper talked about an extra meaning of winning a tournament named after U.S. soccer pioneer Lamar Hunt, and Union coach Jim Curtin talked about bringing a championship to Philadelphia.
“Lamar brought my father here to the States back in the ‘70s, and he played his entire career for Lamar,” Cooper said Monday. “When I first started in the league, I played under Lamar, and then I had the opportunity to play for his son. So it would be very special for me to lift that trophy. Hopefully, I’ll get that chance.”
Hunt was a founder of the original North American Soccer League, and then owner of Major League Soccer teams in Kansas City, Columbus and Dallas.
Cooper’s father — Kenny Sr. — was a goalkeeper in the English Premier League before playing for Hunt with the NASL Dallas Tornado. The younger Cooper also played for Lamar Hunt with the Dallas Burn, which later rebranded into FC Dallas, where Clark Hunt is a chief executive.
“Personally speaking it means a lot to be in the final,” Cooper said. “… It’s an important tournament to the club. And for me personally to be part of a competition that has Lamar Hunt’s name on the trophy, like I’ve said before, is very special.”
Curtin won two Open Cups as a player with the Chicago Fire. But as a native of nearby Oreland, Pennsylvania, he would like to bring a championship to local fans waiting between well-spaced victory parades: a World Series win in 2008, an NBA title in 1983, a Stanley Cup in 1975. The city has no Super Bowl championships. And the 5-year-old Union is still waiting.
“I’ve been through the highs and lows, the runs of emotion with a Philadelphia sports team: What it means to be a Flyers, a Sixers, an Eagles, a Phillies fan,” Curtin said. “We have our own unique fan base, and they’re hungry. We’re only in our fifth year. This is an opportunity to lift a trophy. It’s one that our fans deserve. I think we have the best fans in the league, I think they deserve a trophy, and I think they’re excited. They’ll all be out here in waves (Friday), and pushing us on. It’s something that means a lot to me.”
The U.S. Open Cup was created in 1914, and through that century Philadelphia had its successes. Philadelphia German-American SC won in 1936, and the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nations won four times from 1960 to 1966. But this is the city’s first appearance in the tournament’s modern era, since Major League Soccer was created in 1996.
“It’s something that means a lot to me,” Curtin said. “Being from this city, to do it here would be special. It’s different than a player. I’ve won this competition twice as a player and I’ve lost it once as a player. But as a coach it carries a little more weight. … Being from here I feel a little more the weight not to let the city down. We want to win.”