The 98th US Open Cup Final may be more than just another final. It could also be a battle for the "Kings of the Cup" title that Fire supporters proudly have trumpeted throughout the summer leading up to this point.
The Chicago Fire, owners of four US Open Cup Final trophies can tie Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi United for the most final victories (5) in the history of the tournament. The Sounders could win their third consecutive title and could certainly lay claim to the "Kings" moniker.
While the Fire are in the midst of a mad rush to qualify for the MLS playoffs, the Sounders have been chasing the Supporter's Shield and competing in CONCACAF Champion's League play. Both managers have had to juggle line-ups in preparation for the Final. Sigi Schmid chose to start only four of his regulars on Saturday night against New England and this match may see them without at least one key player. Mauro Rosales, who has generally been credited with being the most influential figure in Seattle's success this season is questionable for this match with an MCL sprain.
Even without Rosales the Sounders are formidable with Alvaro Fernandez, Osvaldo Alonso, and Brad Evans in midfield. Schmid has options in different combinations to fill in for Rosales in Erik Friberg and Lamar Neagle. The Sounders have won the last two league matches (Vancouver and New England) without Rosales but his absence will be greatly felt if he's unavailable. None of Schmid's options provides the playmaking ability of the 30 year old Argentine.
The back line should be at full strength since it appears that James Riley is ready to return to the line up after missing the last two games due to a concussion. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jeff Parke, and Tyson Wahl fill out the defense in front of veteran Kasey Keller.
At forward Fredy Montero has been on a roll of late and as always is Seattle's main scoring threat. Either Nate Jaqua or Mike Fucito will pair with Montero.
The only question in Frank Klopas starting eleven will be whether or not Sebastian Grazzini is ready to go for a full ninety minutes. Klopas said today that Grazzini had returned to full training on Monday and would be evaluated on Tuesday morning. It seems that he will be available in the eighteen but a starting spot wouldn't be decided until some time Tuesday before first kick.
The defense in front of Sean Johnson will be at full strength for the first time in a while with Dan Gargan, Jalil Anibaba, Cory Gibbs, and Gonzalo Segares all available. The group has not been fully together for various reasons since the USOC semi-final on August 30.
This will also be the Sounders first look at Chicago's improved midfield with Pavel Pardo in the holding position behind Marco Pappa, Logan Pause, and Grazzini if he starts. They also have yet to face the dangerous combination of Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko.
The Fire lost to Seattle in an entertaining 2-1 match back on April 9. Keller kept the Fire from picking up at least one point with several huge saves in that match. The two teams met again on June 4 and played to a 0-0 draw at Toyota Park.
With advanced ticket sales already over 33,000 this match should be a spectacle worthy of a cup final. The home field advantage could be huge on Tuesday night but the Fire is fully capable of winning their fifth USOC title if Grazzini is at fully fit.
This really could go either way. A win could spring board the Fire into an "improbable, impossible" finish to the 2011 season.
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