Sounders FC will meet hosts Sporting Kansas City this Wednesday in the 99th US Open Cup Final.
Both sides have enormous advantages to which their faithful can cling in the hours that yawn by before the kick off.
Sounders have the experience of having played in the last three finals and more importantly of winning them. Sporting Kansas have home advantage.
As well as the inconveniences of travel, Sounders have had a day less to prepare. However, that Sunday match against the Los Angeles Galaxy may be something they want as fresh in their memories as possible.
Four goals from four different goal scorers is about as complete a victory as you could want.
More than the pleasure of seeing Mauro Rosales back at his influential best, the fans saw cameos off the bench from Andy Rose and Christian Tiffert. Even Marc Burch, a solid MLS left back, played a neat 1/2 with Rosales to set up a goal.
Matched with other scores, the result practically catapulted Seattle from the mid table battle among three teams to fill two play off places to the top three, a fault line they have been hovering on for some time. A little of the hovering was replaced by some soaring on Sunday.
At the end of the season, someone somewhere will look back on that match and define it as a turning point in some journey.
Quietly and with considerably less fanfare, Sporting Kansas City changed direction last weekend. Three winless games preceded their visit to New England Revolution.
Defeat in Houston was understandable, but to then garner just one point from six in two home games with the Revs and Columbus was galling, especially as both of those sides remain well grounded in the nether regions of the Eastern Conference Table. The loss of those points cost the Kansas City side their preeminent position in the table and may still have dealt a devastating blow to their Supporters Shield credentials.
Still, Teal Bunbury’s 20th minute goal against a Revs side playing without Shalrie Joseph as an employee reversed that trend and brought a win despite the seventh minute loss of Bobby Convey due to a hamstring injury.
However there is a long way to go on that front and victory on Wednesday would serve as a massive boost for the rest of the run in, as they hone in on a treble.
Even with that the momentum is clearly, well probably, with Seattle after thrashing the reigning MLS Champions.
So what other factors may divide two sides with eerily similar season records? In the league, Sporting Kansas are three points ahead and have played one game more. Just 0.06 separates them in Points per Game averages.
The next port of call is the availability of key players.
On the injury front, SKC coach Peter Vermes is at a serious disadvantage. He is without his brilliant centre half and leader Aurelien Collin who is both injured and suspended. Convey is listed as doubtful. Roger Espinoza is available but has been strutting his stuff on the Olympic stage in London with whatever hangover effects that may have. His form after that experience remains an interesting wildcard and he is struggling with a shoulder issue he picked up in London.
Jacob Peterson has been training in a shoulder brace and is also listed as doubtful. Long haired defender Chance Myers (groin strain) and dangerous forward C.J. Sapong (right adductor strain) may become available again after recent absences. Vermes was pretty hopeful after the last training session.
Vermes opposite number Sigi Schmid has no such problems. He is redolent with able deputies in every department and the return of giant Austrian goalkeeper Mike Gspurning has come at the perfect time.
There were players in form at almost every position on Sunday and if he had to remove any of them, there is a ready made replacement. Jhon Hurtado and Marc Burch for example did not start against the Galaxy but their inclusion on Wednesday would certainly not signify a dip in quality.
Perhaps his only worry is the possibility of extra time, when the day less rest may become a factor. He admitted that the possibility makes some iompact on your starting choices but perhaps more on second half substitution choices.
Looking for clues from the league meeting is impossible.
The only league meeting between the two is no help as Vermes dropped more than half of his top starters in a weakened line up.
Of those outfield regulars who did start, Collin is out for the Cup Final. Only Chance Myers and Olympic hero Roger Espinoza are likely to start on Wednesday plus perhaps Teal Bunbury, depending on Sapong’s progress which Vermes has been saying puts him on track to play.
For a clue to their likely line up, it may be more helpful to examine their semi final squad:
Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic; Paulo Nagamura, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza; Jacob Peterson, Teal Bunbury (C.J. Sapong-63), Kei Kamara.
Julio Cesar occupies the same slot as Nagamura and Peterson is as we said doubtful. Collin stands out as the big loss from that line up.
Schmid’s semi final line up is less of a clue. He will bring his A game and his A team, notwithstanding the USOC rules about non Americans.
With Collin out, someone will have to step up and be the SKC enforcer to match the authority Sounders Osvaldo Alonso brings to the game. SKC are not know for backing down in the face of aggression.
They will not react the same way LA Galaxy’s starts did to aggression. They will likely give it back, assuming they don’t get theirs in first.
Graham Zusi will try and pull the strings. Sounders will have to fins a way to either cut off supply to him, or from him. SKC are also pacier than Galaxy which may mean Jhom Hurtado figurtes in Schmid’s mind as he is abit quicker than Pat Ianni. That said, Ianni is a veteran of the last time Sounders played a Cup Final away from home.
Along with Alonso, Fredy Montero, Leo Gonzalez and Steve Zakuani, Ianni is one of five men who started that day still with the club. Ianni and Tyson Wahl filled in for Tyrone Marshall and Jhon Hurtado and excelled themselves with a mature performance that was way beyond what could have been expected for players, as inexperienced as they were at that time.
The side that day was:
Kasey Keller; James Riley, Tyson Wahl, Pat Ianni, Leo Gonzalez; Freddie Ljungberg, Steve Zakuani (Roger Levesque 73′), Osvaldo Alonso, Pete Vagenas; Seb Le Toux, Fredy Montero (Brad Evans 76′).
Substitutes not used were Terry Boss, Nathan Sturgis, Zach Scott, Lamar Neagle, Nate Jaqua
Of those, Montero and Alonso have become mainstays and will be key figures on Wednesday.
All of which dodges the question, posed in the headline – who are the favourites to win the 20123 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup:
Maybe you’re braver than us?