By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (May 6, 2019) US Soccer Players – The 2019 US Open Cup starts this month. It’s the country’s oldest soccer tournament, a single-elimination knockout competition that dates back to 1914. The first round, which kicks off May 7, will feature 32 teams made up of eight amateur clubs in addition to the National Premier Soccer League and USL League One and Two.
While last year’s champion Houston Dynamo will look to repeat later this summer, the first round features the smaller, lesser known clubs that make this tournament special. Like the FA Cup, this competition is all about the smaller teams upsetting the big boys. The early rounds are for the Cinderella team resides. In many ways, the US Open Cup combines soccer with all the drama and excitement of the NCAA basketball tournament.
Christos FC, for example, reached the fourth round in 2017. Based in Baltimore, the team plays in the Maryland Major Soccer League, an affiliated league of United States Adult Soccer Association. Founded in 1997, the team got its name from Christos Discount Liquors.
Potential upsets aside, one of the biggest knocks against the US Open Cup in recent years has been how undervalued the tournament became primarily due to the lack of television coverage. For some, this inability to watch games live hurt the tournament’s visibility and credibility. Not anymore. Last month, US Soccer announced a deal with ESPN to air matches on its streaming service. As a result, all games from the first round to the final will air on ESPN+ through 2022.
“The U.S. Open Cup is America’s version of what is truly unique about soccer around the world – knockout format club tournaments that invite the Davids and the Goliaths from all levels of the sport to compete against one another to determine the nation’s top team,” said Burke Magnus, the executive vice president of programming and scheduling at ESPN. “This exciting property joins a robust collection of soccer’s best domestic cup competitions on ESPN+.”
The second round this year is on May 14-15 and introduces the 25 USL Championship teams, including defending league champs Louisville City FC. In this round, also keep an eye for Las Vegas Lights FC, coached by former US National Team star Eric Wynalda, and Saint Louis FC, which plays in a market keen on getting an MLS team. FC Cincinnati built their Open Cup reputation prior to joining MLS. In 2017 the club, a member of the USL at the time, managed to reach the semifinals eliminating Columbus and Chicago.
One of the issues with the fourth round, set for June 12, is MLS hosting all of the games. US Soccer has said that home teams for each round are “determined by a random selection process among those clubs that have applied to host and whose venues meet the minimum tournament requirements.” In other words, MLS teams could end up on the road.
This year, some other teams to watch starting in the first round are the New York Red Bulls Under-23 and Miami FC, a USOC quarterfinalist in 2017. These two teams play in the PDL and NPSL, respectively, with reputations for developing young talent. Of course, trying to determine which teams will get past the first round (or beyond) is an impossible task in a tournament loaded with upsets, although MLS teams have dominated over the past two decades.
Nonetheless, like the FA Cup, there is an abundant history at the US Open Cup when it comes to upsets, especially in the first four rounds. Which team is the biggest underdog to win it all in the MLS era? The Rochester Raging Rhinos, at the time members of the A-League won in 1999 at a time when MLS was still in its infancy. The Rhinos swept aside the Chicago Fire, Dallas Burn, and Columbus Crew before defeating the Colorado Rapids 2-0 in the championship game at Columbus Crew Stadium.
The Rhinos remain the only non-MLS team to lift the trophy since the league debuted in 1996 and the first to defeat four teams from that league. It is a feat that is unlikely to repeat. In 2008, USL side the Charleston Battery came close, eliminating the Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, and Seattle before losing to DC United in the final. Can another Cinderella team emerge this season? Anything is possible. Last season, seven amateur teams, for example, defeated pro clubs to qualify for the third round.
A team might make history during this year’s US Open Cup, but it could very well come as a result of something an MLS team ultimately does. Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles have each won the trophy five times, more than any other club. Behind them are Sporting Kansas City, the Fire, and Sounders with four. Any one of these three MLS sides has a shot at equaling that record and earning a berth to the 2020 Concacaf Champions League.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- MLS trends in 2019
- Canada’s new league
- The MLS rivalries in the I-95 corridor
- The other Gold Cup seeds
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com