In many countries, football federations start out hoping their national cup competitions will emulate England's FA Cup. They usually fall well short of capturing the FA Cup magic, but continue to hold the event annually, often tweaking it to accommodate the exigencies of the powerful clubs and/or sponsors.
Cup competitions endure, though, and they capture the essence of soccer -- not every country can support a professional league, but even the smallest can stage a cup tournament.
The U.S. Open Cup has survived apathy, hostility from within, ignorance, labor disputes, lack of funds and organization, soccer wars and world wars, to be contested every year since 1914. Probably no other team sport in the country can match the U.S. Open Cup's record for persistence. Only baseball and ice hockey rival soccer's longevity for holding a national championship competition, but theirs have been interrupted by lockouts and strikes, hockey's Stanley Cup even being stopped by an influenza outbreak in 1918.
But it is difficult to determine the U.S. Open Cup's place in American sport, or its importance in domestic soccer. The mainstream media has accepted the World Cup and is at least tolerant of the MLS, but has been unable to place the U.S. Open Cup in its proper perspective. It might take a spark such as the Cup's 100th anniversary to light the way and give the tournament a higher profile.
Until then, I will point out that the U.S. Open Cup is important to at least two major players in domestic and world sport. As of Tuesday night, there had not been confirmation whether Phil Anschutz and Lamar Hunt will attend tonight's final between Anschutz' Los Angeles Galaxy and Hunt's FC Dallas at The Home Depot Center. But both Anschutz and Hunt have a close association with the Cup.
The last time the Galaxy won the U.S. Open Cup, Anschutz appeared front and center, regarding the 2-1 overtime victory over the New England Revolution with the passion of a true fan.
The match was scheduled for October 27, 2001, a week after the Galaxy had lost to San Jose in the MLS Cup final in Columbus. The Revolution had lobbied to play host to the U.S. Open Cup at Foxboro Stadium. The team hoped to augment the crowd by honoring tickets for the regular-season finale, which had been canceled because of the Sept. 11 hijackings. The Galaxy gained the home-field advantage, though, and an announced crowd of 4,195 overflowed Titan Stadium.
The Galaxy trailed at halftime, and Anschutz sat glumly in his mini-suite on that Saturday afternoon. But after Danny Califf headed in a golden goal, Anschutz headed onto the playing field, snapping photos of the team and joining the celebration.
The U.S. Open Cup matters to Anschutz and Hunt, whose name is now on the trophy and who has been financing soccer in this country since becoming inspired by watching a match in Ireland in the mid-60s. Since Anschutz and Hunt are among the most influential figures in the entertainment and sports industry, it seems inevitable that their enthusiasm will become contagious to a significant audience -- eventually.
Certainly, both finalists are approaching the match seriously.
FC Dallas coach Colin Clarke left Ronnie O'Brien, Carlos Ruiz, Greg Vanney and Mark Wilson at home while the team went to San Jose for a 1-1 draw Saturday night. Ruiz (hamstring strain) is questionable, but most of his key teammates are well-rested, including Roberto Mina, who sat out the San Jose game after scoring twice as FC Dallas defeated the Galaxy, 4-1, in Frisco last week.
Galaxy coach Steve Sampson will likely stay with the lineup that produced a 2-1 victory over Kansas City on substitute Marcelo Saragosa's late goal Saturday.
FC Dallas and the Galaxy could be competing against each other five times in just more than a month, including a regular-season match Saturday at the Home Depot Center and, possibly, two playoff matchups starting Oct. 22.
That should be plenty of time for the Texans to reunite the Ruiz-Eddie Johnson strike pairing, but it might not happen due to the combination of Johnson's broken foot and Mina's emergence. Mina, 20, has become an excellent investment, with one of the more impressive goals-to-salary ratios in MLS history. Mina has scored seven times this season and is reportedly earning less than the minimum $24,000 salary. Johnson, meanwhile, has declined since receiving a major salary increase.
The Galaxy counters with Herculez Gomez, who has produced nine goals, plus three in Cup play. But the driving forces for these teams are Landon Donovan and Ronnie O'Brien. If Donovan is motivated, the Galaxy should prevail. If O'Brien's game is on and he is firing accurately from long distance, FC Dallas will be difficult to defeat.
Frank Dell'Apa is a soccer columnist for The Boston Globe and ESPN.com .