CARSON, Calif. – It’s not MLS Cup, nor is it the FA Cup in England, but there is no diminishing the sense of accomplishment for teams fortunate enough to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the oldest soccer competition in the United States.
The Galaxy, who opens this year’s tournament against USL Pro’s L.A. Blues on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium, have won two Open Cups (2001 and 2005) and made it to the Open Cup Final in 2002 and 2006. Defender Todd Dunivant fondly remembers the 2005 victory, one which helped spur the Galaxy to an MLS Cup championship later that season. Dunivant said then-Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson put a great deal of emphasis on the Open Cup that year.
“The team followed with that,” he said. “Those games were important. It goes a long way, it really does. I think you see that with Seattle (which has won the last two Open Cups). They put a lot of emphasis on it, and they’ve won a couple of trophies for their fans."
The Galaxy’s Adam Cristman was a rookie with New England in 2007 when the Revolution won the Cup and remembers the pride the team felt after its victory in the final.
“It didn’t matter what trophy we won,” he said. “Everybody was really excited. We made it to the MLS final that year, the next year we went to the SuperLiga final. Everyone was very proud.”
Dave Sarachan, associate head coach with the Galaxy, won two Open Cups with the Chicago Fire – including one at the expense of the Galaxy in 2006 – and never undervalued the importance of the games. In fact, during his four-and-a-half year tenure with the Fire, Chicago never failed to reach at least the Cup semifinals.
He said he still laughs when he hears of coaches using mostly reserves and not putting much effort into the Open Cup matches.
“We never looked at it that way,” he said. “We always treated it as a competition that had a trophy and rings at the end of it. I still talk to our guys that were part of those championship teams, and that meant a lot to them.”
Chris Klein’s Open Cup championship in 2004 as a member of the Kansas City Wizards was particularly meaningful for the senior director of the LA Galaxy Academy. There never was any questioning the importance of that competition for the Wizards, who were playing for a trophy named after the team’s owner.
“It’s the oldest tournament in our country and that puts more emphasis on it,” he said. “And to have it named after Lamar Hunt made it a little more special for us, to play for a trophy for somebody who has done so much for our sport.”
There was no downplaying the importance of the Cup then, and it’s no different now, he said.
“With the Galaxy,” he said, “I know there is the emphasis that we want to win every competition that we’re in. I know Bruce (Arena) feels the team is deep enough to feel that no matter who he puts on the field, they have a good chance to win. It’s important for us that every time we step on the field we should win these games.”
Take it from those who have played in it, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup remains a meaningful competition.
“It’s what you make of it,” Dunivant said. “If you make it a priority, you can get some hardware, and hardware and trophies are not easy to come by. They all look good in the trophy case.”