When FC Dallas take on the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday in the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, one team will be treading ground it has covered before, while the other will be traveling in uncharted territory.
For the Galaxy, this will be their third Open Cup Final in five years. Add in a pair of MLS Cup Finals during that time, as well as the CONCACAF Champions Cup they won, and the club has played six times for honors since the start of the millenium.
For FC Dallas, meanwhile, they haven't been in a game where a trophy has been on the line since 1997, when they defeated D.C. United on penalty kicks in the U.S. Open Cup Final to win the only honors in club history.
Still, the Hoops have reached this year's final like practiced campaigners. They got off to a confident start in the third round by beating the Wilmington Hammerheads -- the USL Second Division (third level) team that shocked them a year ago -- giving up an early goal before winning 3-1.
The next stop was an away game against Columbus Crew, where the Hoops saw the return of injured forward Eddie Johnson, who scored a goal in extra time as FCD again won 3-1.
Confidence was mounting for Dallas as they faced last year's MLS Cup champion, D.C. United, in the quarterfinals. Carlos Ruiz scored a last-gasp goal for the Hoops before the match went the full extra-time period, FCD winning the resulting penalty shootout 4-1 after 120 minutes and a 1-1 tie.
The semifinals paired the Hoops against three-time champion Chicago Fire, and in their first-ever win at Pizza Hut Park, FCD midfielder Ronnie O'Brien provided the spark with the game's only goal in the 20th minute and that was all that was needed to send FC Dallas to the finals 1-0.
"We have put a lot into it and showed a lot of character -- on the road in Columbus, we've gone overtime in D.C. and gone to [penalty kicks], and then home to Chicago," said FCD coach Colin Clarke. "We've put a lot into this tournament and we are looking forward to it."
The teams have already met three times in league play this season, with the edge going to FCD, having won both games at home. In the last league meeting, the Hoops gave the Green-and-Gold a wakeup call, beating them 4-1 at Pizza Hut Park.
"As much as people want to talk about how we beat them last week, we lost to them 2-0 (in L.A.) earlier in the year," said defender Greg Vanney.
Part of the game plan for FCD has been to filter in the youth while building around the veterans. Newly signed Mark Wilson is one of the veterans who has shined and established his place in the team.
"This is a huge game. I have been in finals and have not gotten to play in them. It means a lot to me to win something," said Wilson. "I have had a decent career. I have been in the Champions League and EPL -- this would mean a lot to me to play in and win."
FC Dallas come into the match after a 1-1 draw in San Jose, where Clarke used a number of usual reserves against the league's leading team record-wise.
"There were a lot of good performances all over the field [against San Jose]. I can't really single one person out," Clarke said. "We are going to need a lot of depth over the course of the next four weeks. We've got a lot of games. We got some suspensions, national team call-ups coming so we are going to need everybody available."
The Hoops might have also been delivered a gift for Wednesday's, in that the crowd size will be reduced due to restrictions in place by California State University-Dominguez Hills, where The Home Depot Center is located.
"It's fun to play in an environment with lots of fans no matter whom they are rooting for. I can't say that their crowd would have a huge impact, other than making the game exciting and having a little more atmosphere, but in terms of the outcome I don't think they would change anything," said Vanney.
Added Clarke: "There are some rules that are there for whatever reason. Obviously, there is not going to be a full house. But, we have some folks coming from Dallas that have spent some hard-earned money, so we want to give them a trip to remember as well.".
The visitors will also look to shore up a defense that has given up some strange goals in recent weeks -- either when play was thought to be stopped, or on apparently missed offside decisions.
"I think in the last two San Jose games, and probably one game in between that, I think we have given up goals that have been questionable with offsides. You should never stop -- play the whistle and continue to play, and play the ball until it is dead, and not in the back of our goal dead," Vanney said. "You can't rely on anyone to pull us out of anything or to make calls for us."
Said Clarke: "It's a little disappointing we didn't see [the offside situation] at the time with the goal against San Jose, but hopefully things will start to go our way."
The Hoops are looking to relive the glory days of winning on the road while the construction of Pizza Hut Park was being finished, when they remained atop the Western Conference for much of the first part of the campaign. L.A. on the other hand has struggled mightily to pick up road wins, but shined brightly at home.
"Obviously, L.A. are a good home team and we have done well on the road, so it should make for an exciting match," Vanney said.
Ron Goode is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.