Despite the history, cup fever still hasn't quite gripped the US

Thanks in part to the Wembley pitch and some dodgy work by English football’s finest match officials, the 129th FA Cup Final pairing is set.

After months of competition, highlighted by a few shocks along the way and the intriguing story of barely-breathing Portsmouth reaching the final, the world's oldest football competition, accompanied by all of the requisite pomp and circumstance, is drawing to a dramatic conclusion.

Meanwhile, in what is so quaintly referred to as the Colonies, America's own Cup competition is just getting started.

Called the US Open Cup, the tournament's 2010 edition will be the 97th, making it the oldest continuously running knockout competition outside of Britain.

Decades of history stands behind it, echoing back into the earliest days of organized football in the United States.

Cup Fever hasn't yet his as strongly Stateside as it has in Portsmouth

From there, the comparisons become more difficult to make. For most of the tournament's history, it has been contested by amateur sides; the long dark age of sporadic or intermittent professional football in America meant ethnically-oriented teams, like Maccabi Los Angeles and San Francisco's Greek-American, and semi-professional outfits from regional hotbeds like St. Louis and Philadelphia, dominated the competition.

Even during the heyday of the North American Soccer League amateur sides took the trophy, because the professional clubs, often run by men with no roots in the game, chose not to enter.

That all changed in the mid-90s, when both second division and MLS teams took over the tournament. Since Major League Soccer's first season in 1996, only one non-first division side, Rochester in 1999, have managed to take the Cup.

It would seem obvious that MLS would dominate the competition, and for the most part they have; but that doesn't mean they've taken it entirely seriously.

The US Open Cup suffers greatly for attention and significance for a litany of reasons. US Soccer runs the competition, but does little to promote it.

Clubs, hamstrung by thinnish squads and narrow budgets, put out weakened sides in all but the final few rounds. Matches are often held away from clubs' main grounds in small facilities and in front of sparse crowds.

Television coverage is non-existent until the Final, and receives little attention even then. Passionate fans care, but midweek fixtures and little marketing from the teams themselves discourage most supporters from making the effort.

The value and importance of the FA Cup is generally unquestioned, and while some of the bigger English clubs might use it as exercise in blooding their youngsters, winning the tournament is still notable achievement.

For many, clubs themselves and fans alike, it is about the history, the lore, the pageantry, the trip to Wembley, and the difference between a moderately successful season and a truly magical one.

There is no magic in the US Open Cup, a second class competition in a sport that has too long itself been second class in the United States.

Perhaps it is a function of the American mindset, born of following sports in which there is only league competition followed by playoffs; knockout tournaments don't exist in the world of baseball, basketball, or American football in the traditional association football sense, so wrapping our heads around the Open Cup is a difficult task.

But the attraction should be there, if for no other reason than the possibility of a small club jumping up and beating one of the big boys.

It happens, though not often, and reminds us of why open tournaments like the FA Cup and US Open Cup possess something that makes them truly special.

Americans, even those with little interest in basketball, sit enraptured of the NCAA college basketball tournament because we love the underdog; when a small school from the middle of nowhere can upset the traditional powerhouse in a one-off situation, we find ourselves pulled along by the story.

Alas, even the David and Goliath moments cannot seem to give the US Open Cup any traction. The history means nothing, the Cup itself is a nice thing to win but not the prize it should be, and the tournament languishes as a result.

US Soccer seems to run it out of obligation, not because they want to promote the game through the tournament, but because history mandates that they should.

Every other serious footballing nation has a knockout cup, so of course so should the United States. That doesn't mean they must commit much in terms of resources or building awareness, and the result is a tournament top-flight clubs sleepwalk through, as if it is simply a proxy reserve league.

Kasey Keller lifts the 2009 US Open Cup

There is reason for a bit of hope, however. The Seattle Sounders, new to MLS in 2009, lifted the Cup in their first top-flight year, and made a concerted effort to do so.

Winning the tournament now brings with it a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, and while that competition is experiencing its own struggles to establish itself as meaningful and worthwhile, it does give the champion entry into the FIFA Club World Cup.

For an MLS team, the opportunity to take on the champions of Europe and South America in a somewhat-important competition (leaving the question of that tournament's relevance for another day) is a carrot of epic proportions.

It will take time, as much as decades of growth and the building of much larger football fan bases in America for the US Open Cup to take its rightful place as the country's true equivalent to its English forerunner.

The layer of richness added to the sport cannot be denied, and so it would be a pity if it never ascends to a place of prominence.

These tournaments, with their history, stories and spirited minnows struggling mightily against their bigger brethren, and sometimes prevailing, are special wonders that belong in the game and certainly in football in America.

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