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What the US Open Cup final means to Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Kansas City are not new to this anymore. Sporting Kansas City are not the underdogs anymore. But it still means the world to us.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The history of Sporting Kansas City has about 8 significant dates.

April 13, 1996: The inaugural match of the Kansas City Wiz, a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids at Arrowhead Stadium.

October 15, 2000: The Kansas City Wizards win their first MLS Cup.

September 22, 2004: The Kansas City Wizards win their first US Open Cup title

August 31, 2006: Hunt Sports Group sells the club to OnGoal.

November 17, 2010: The Kansas City Wizards rebrand to Sporting Kansas City

June 9, 2011: LiveSTRONG Sporting Park opens.

August 8, 2012: Sporting Kansas City wins the US Open Cup.

December 7, 2013: Sporting Kansas City wins the MLS Cup.

Half of the list comes in the past four seasons, and none of them have to do with the team debuting or being sold. They are achievements, either in silverware or in cementing the club into the culture of Kansas City. This isn't being said to diminish the achievements of the club's first 15 seasons, but it's no secret that the rebrand has been an astronomical success for the franchise.

In less than five seasons, Sporting Kansas City have become one of the premier franchises in Major League Soccer as one of the consistently best on-field teams and as innovative off of it.

In 2011 the club was rebranded, with a modern badge, sleek new kits, and a fantastic stadium. In addition, Peter Vermes' squad started to perform brilliantly on the field, finished first in the Eastern Conference and were one game away from the MLS Cup. The team was finally back to being a contender, and the awe shown in the face of all the newness turned to hunger for a trophy, especially after the heartbreaking way 2011 ended.

In 2012, Sporting KC fans got their wish. They made their way to the final of US Open Cup, where they faced off against three-time consecutive winners Seattle Sounders. Sporting Park made its cup final debut and when Eddie Johnson skied the final penalty kick to give Sporting KC the US Open Cup victory, it marked a transition of Sporting KC from a restarted franchise to a contending team. However, the 2012 playoffs were met with the same result: losing to Houston.

2013 was the culmination of the efforts of the past two seasons. An early exit from the US Open Cup was all but forgotten when Lovell Palmer's penalty kick clanged off the crossbar and gave Sporting KC its first MLS Cup since 2000. Kansas City had a championship team again, something the city had been clamoring for for nearly 30 years.

2014 was the after of the happily ever after. Sporting KC weren't bad by any means; they were just the defending champions who faltered towards the end of the season and made an unremarkable exit in the knockout round of the playoffs after free-falling for two months down the stretch. It was unfamiliar, considering the teams of the past three seasons meeting or exceeding expectations.

On top of that, 2014 brought around the Kansas City Royals and their magical run to the World Series. Suddenly, Sporting Kansas City weren't the only ones contending in Kansas City. A thirst for success that had been so desperate only four years ago were suddenly quenched by a championship soccer team, an unforgettable 2014 Royals team and a football team that finally had a respectable head coach and front office. Things have changed a lot in the Kansas City sports scene since 2010.

Sporting Kansas City no longer stick out as the city's only winners. They are no longer the upstarts of Major League Soccer. In this match they are the favorites against a club that has had little success in their short history and a first trophy for them would be huge.

So what does this US Open Cup final mean for Sporting KC fans? It won't mean the same as the 2012 trophy. That was special in its own right, the broken barrier of ineptitude and heartbreak that had canvassed Kansas City since 1985. It won't mean the same as 2013, a title that gave Kansas City its first champions in three decades.

It won't mean the same, but it also won't mean less.

This final will mean something different than the two trophies won in 2012 and 2013 respectively. This final, should Sporting Kansas City win, represents the next step. The goal was to put Sporting Kansas City on the map in Kansas City, to give the city a soccer culture, to make the area fall in love with the sport and that has happened and that has been done.

Critics said wait until the newness of the rebrand and of Sporting Park waned, but Sporting Kansas City is still here, selling out Sporting Park and bringing 800 fans to Philadelphia.

Naysayers said wait until the Royals or Chiefs return to glory and then Sporting Kansas City will return to being an afterthought, but Sporting Kansas City is still here with a contending team and gear showing up everywhere around the city.

This final represents the next era in Sporting Kansas City's history. They are here, they have arrived, and they have won. They are now part of the Kansas City sports culture and nothing is going to change that in the immediate future. The goal of making the city fall in love with soccer has been reached. The idea of building a winning soccer team has been met.

What's next is maintenance. Building a club that will be a contender year in and year out. A team that is favorites in every cup final, not just this one. Sure, there will be lean years, but the goal is that those lean years are years that other teams would kill for.

This final means that Sporting Kansas City is here to stay. It's a look to the future, not a culmination of the past. The start of the era where Sporting KC carries a reputation of top dogs and when fans think of MLS, one of the teams they think about is Sporting Kansas City.

If Sporting KC lose tonight, it will be sad for awhile. We'll be happy for Union fans celebrating their first trophy, and then we'll turn our focus to the playoffs. That's what we've become accustomed to and, spoiled or not, it's what we've come to expect. But losing won't crash the next era, it just becomes a footnote instead of a year on the wall.

Philadelphia have a different goal tonight, one Kansas Citians felt only three seasons ago. It doesn't mean the same, but it does means just as much.