Tonight, MLS teams enter the US Open Cup in the fourth round. Just five consecutive wins away from hoisting the trophy, it's time to dream.
Outside of the obvious direct impacts of winning a trophy now, an Open Cup triumph can mean even more to a franchise. It can springboard success, as Open Cup titles have underpinned larger prosperity for both Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City over the last decade. It can provide extra job security amid fractious MLS campaigns, like Ben Olsen with D.C. United in 2013 and Wilmer Cabrera with the Houston Dynamo last year.
It's also the quickest route to the Concacaf Champions League with the winner earning a berth.
Obviously, it would be great for any of the 21 American MLS teams to win this tournament. It's a trophy, and trophies come with prestige, memories, future earnings and more. But here are five teams in particular that would most benefit from winning the dang thing this year:
An insatiable franchise, Atlanta United want to win everything on and off the field. They painfully lost out on the Supporters' Shield last year on Decision Day presented by AT&T, but duly followed that up with a dominant run to winning MLS Cup in just their second season.
They have the league record for largest transfer in and largest transfer out. One of their players now has the single-season league record for goals. They want to win everything, and an Open Cup would be another achievement to list on any potential dynasty resume in coming years.
Why not go back-to-back?
The last team to successfully defend the trophy was the Seattle Sounders from 2009-11. In fact, they're the only club in the MLS era to win consecutive US Open Cups. It also laid the foundation for the tremendous success the club have had since.
Houston could have some of that. Plus, with a solid defensive foundation and the individual brilliance of Alberth Elis (once he returns from Gold Cup duty with Honduras) and Mauro Manotas, they're set up as well as any club for a cup run.
Last season, Philly made it to the Open Cup final and finished with their highest-ever point total in MLS. But both competitions ended in convincing fashion for the Union, losing 3-0 in final to Houston and 3-1 in the Knockout Round of the playoffs to NYCFC. It's a sour taste to a wonderful season.
This year, they've gone from strength-to-strength, sitting first place in the Eastern Conference with half of the season already down. The Union have made the US Open Cup final three times in the last five years, losing each time. Perhaps this is the year they can finally get over the hump.
Orlando City SC
Orlando City have a great stadium, a passionate fanbase and an exciting team — but they haven't made the playoffs in their MLS existence. They could use a taste of success and how much fun would a cup run through Exploria Stadium be?
Plus: A deep run in the competition would probably mean a few top class performances from Nani which is always fun.
Real Salt Lake
Mike Petke at the podium, doused in champagne with a big ol' smile on his face, and a mic in his hands. We're all winners if that happens.
Real Salt Lake, like the Dynamo, could be a really strong cup team. Their MLS season has been made up of streaks, both winning and losing. They have depth, individuals who can win a game when things aren't going to plan and a coach who has his team ready to compete.