Before the Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union lace 'em up to do battle over the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night (8 pm ET; ESPN2), we decided to take a look back at the most exciting championship matches from the MLS era.
It was not an easy ranking process, as the title game is typically a tight affair. From the 22 finals involving MLS clubs, there have been four taken in extra time, another three won in penalty shootouts and 10 others decided by a single goal. But, ya know, we persevered to come up with a top five for you.
No. 5: Sounders claim first USOC crown in D.C. (2009)
The Seattle Sounders became just the second MLS expansion club to win the Open Cup, starting a run of three straight tourney titles by crossing the country to take a wild final against D.C. United at RFK Stadium.
The Sounders created a rash of first half chances, but were unable to find the net, largely due to the efforts of D.C. goalkeeper Josh Wicks. A former Vancouver Whitecaps man quite accustomed to foiling Seattle, Wicks pulled off a pair of massive stops to deny Fredy Montero, and another to befuddle Freddie Ljungberg.
However, the game would turn in the 67th minute. First, Wicks spilled a Ljungberg shot that Montero happily cleaned up to break the ice. Then, the home goalkeeper inexplicably planted a leaping two-footed stamp on the scorer's midsection to earn a red card.
Kasey Keller piled up seven saves to keep his side in front and late sub Roger Levesque doubled the Seattle lead four minutes from time. That strike would prove to be the winner after Clyde Simms pulled one back for D.C. in the 89th minute.
No. 4: "Golden" Califf completes Galaxy rally (2001)
The LA Galaxy were just six days removed from their third MLS Cup defeat in six seasons when they welcomed the New England Revolution to the campus of Cal State Fullerton to decide the U.S. Open Cup. For a long while, it looked as though they'd need to get used to disappointment.
Wolde Harris opened the scoring for the visitors in fortuitous fashion on the half-hour. The forward's low free kick drive from about 30 yards out took just the right carom off the Galaxy wall needed to squeak past the scrambling Kevin Hartman.
The Galaxy peppered the away goal trying to level, but were repeatedly turned away by New England 'keeper Jose Fernandez. The Galaxy finally cracked the Bolivian's code in an unusual manner with 20 minutes left, as Ezra Hendrickson's cross from the right floated over everyone and into the far corner.
The game would go to sudden death extras, but the first session barely lasted two minutes before Danny Califf's firm corner kick header nutmegged post guardian Joe Franchino to give the Galaxy their first domestic championship of any kind.
No. 3: Late dramatics see SKC end Seattle reign (2012)
Having never lost an Open Cup match as an MLS team, Seattle traveled to Kansas City on a stormy night looking for a fourth consecutive title. It was not to be, as Sporting Kansas City won a match voted as the best moment of 2012 by MLSsoccer.com readers.
It was a cagey affair from the start, with big chances hard to come by for both sides. The closest anyone came to scoring during the first 84 minutes of the match was when a Kei Kamara knuckleball from 35 yards found the crossbar midway through the opening period.
Kamara finally broke the ice with a spot kick, but the lead only lasted a couple of minutes before Zach Scott nodded the Sounders level from a long restart serve. Neither side was able to carve out an extra time winner, so the championship game went to spot kicks.
After Roger Espinoza's second round effort was stopped, Marc Burch converted to put Seattle ahead — but it would be the last successful shot by the visitors. Man of the Match Matt Besler knotted things up before Ozzie Alonso fired over. Graham Zusi missed the net with a panenka try, but SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen rejected Christian Tiffert to keep the shootout score even.
Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning then saved Paulo Nagamura's fifth round attempt, only to have referee Ricardo Salazar rule that he'd come off his line too soon. The Sporting KC midfielder buried his second chance spot kick, and when Eddie Johnson followed by flying his attempt over, the hosts were Open Cup champions for the second time.
No. 2: Extra time sub Klopas boots Chicago to double (1998)
One week after ending the MLS Cup reign of D.C. United, the Chicago Fire celebrated by doubling their pleasure with a 2-1 extra time victory over Columbus Crew SC in the Open Cup final. It was a victory filled with peculiarities and capped by drama when Frank Klopas thrilled his adopted hometown by hopping off the bench late to bag the winner.
The title match was originally to be played in Virginia Beach in August, but Hurricane Bonnie had other ideas and the game was moved to Soldier Field. The chilly, rainy evening did not start well for the Fire, who saw MLS Defender of the Year Lubos Kubik stretchered off after just 14 minutes with a broken fibula, but Jerzy Podbrozny would eventually put them ahead from the spot on the edge of intermission.
After Stern John converted a free kick eight minutes into the second frame to even the score, the teams traded chances without finding a way past either Fire goalkeeper Zach Thornton or his Crew SC counterpart, Juergen Sommer.
Finally, Klopas entered at the start of extras to grab the crown in the 99th minute. The forward — who was born in Greece, but raised from the age of eight in the Windy City — was in the right place at the right time as an Ante Razov corner kick header landed at his feet on the doorstep. Klopas made no mistake to start the double party.
No. 1: Sporting KC breaks Philly hearts in shootout (2015)
Having lost the 2014 final to Seattle in extra time, Philadelphia returned to the title match for another shot at taking the Open Cup in front of their home fans. This time, they'd end up hanging their heads after the longest penalty shootout in tournament history.
It all started so well for the Union, who got some love from the post on Paulo Nagamura's 12th minute shot. They then grabbed the lead through Open Cup star Sebastian Le Toux in the 23rd minute. A splendid long diagonal ball from Vincent Nogueira found the rampaging forward, who fired home to extend his all-time tournament scoring record to 16 goals.
Philadelphia had several decent opportunities to double their edge, but were unable to beat Tim Melia a second time. Sporting eventually equalized thanks to a superb 65th-minute curler from Krisztian Nemeth. Neither team found a decider the rest of the way, sending the match to penalties.
After each side netted two spot kicks, Melia and Philly native John McCarthy (who subbed in for Andre Blake prior to the shootout) traded saves. The next four rounds saw the Union nudge ahead from the spot before Sporting KC averted disaster with successful conversions. After Melia smothered a weak Andrew Wenger effort in the eighth round, unexpected hero Jordi Quintilla sent McCarthy sprawling the wrong way and passed the ball home to give the rude guests a third Open Cup title.