2013 is year the Colorado Rapids need to make a serious effort to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Rapids' Open Cup history is disappointing at best. The team made it to the semifinals in 1996 and the championship game in 1999, both times losing to second division Rochester Rhinos. Since then they have been knocked out at various stages of qualifying or in early rounds of the Cup. But from a fan perspective, it has all too often felt like the team was seeing the Cup games as nuisances and essentially using them as reserve matches. But the Open Cup is no longer a waste of team resources. It has become a legitimate title, and one which the Rapids ought to try to win.
The U.S. Open Cup is 100 years old this year. While it has never held the fascination of the English FA Cup (which some clubs and players have claimed to value over the league title) or other domestic cups around the world, that is slowly changing. The emphasis put on the Open Cup by teams such as Seattle Sounders and D.C. United over the past few years has demonstrated a growing value to winning the title. Given that it is increasingly difficult to win the MLS Cup, as well as the automatic entry into the CONCACAF Champion's League for the Open Cup winner, the allure of the Open Cup is likely to only increase.
Excluding the two Rocky Mountain Cup wins, the Rapids have one trophy in their cabinet: the 2010 MLS Cup. (Ed note: Don't forget the one Western and one Eastern Conference title trophies!) Since MLS is built on a parity model, the Rapids always have a chance to win the MLS Cup. But despite being a generally competitive, playoff team, the Rapids have only made it to two MLS Cup finals in 18 years. And it's worth noting that some of those years the team had a one-in-five chance of making the final. Furthermore, as the league continues to expand, it gets progressively harder to make the playoffs, never mind win the title. That logic also applies to the Supporter's Shield (awarded to the MLS regular season champion), a trophy Colorado has never even sniffed. The Rapids have taken part in the CONCACAF Champion's League, but couldn't advanced past the group stage. And no MLS team has won a CONCACAF title since 2000, back when the region's title was the easier to win CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Put simply, the odds of winning any title are slim. The Rapids can no longer afford to blow off one of their cup-hoisting opportunities. In addition, the club may not have its usual excuse this year. Like Colorado over the years, most MLS teams who field reserves and trialists in early-round games reportedly do so because of a lack of team depth. The Rapids are proving to have considerable depth this year. The club is also not likely to be significantly weakened by national team call-ups this summer. Assuming players continue to come back from injury as the Open Cup schedule begins later this month, the Rapids should take advantage of their depth and make a serious effort to win their first U.S. Open Cup title.