I think the U.S. Open Cup is the best kept secret in American soccer. However it shouldn’t be and here’s why: it’s the only competition in which teams from different levels of American soccer face off in meaningful matches. Of course whenever anyone talks about the Cup, he or she has to mention the amazing rampage the Rochester Raging Rhinos went on in the 1999 season. Lower level teams often get the chance to host MLS teams at their home stadiums which creates a meaningful experience for supporters.
During their landmark run to the trophy, the Rhinos defeated 4 MLS teams and Rochester will never forget that. This is the beauty of the cup that supporters of European clubs fill their history books with. Like when Tottenham Hotspur won the English F.A. Cup in 1901 which makes them the only non-league team to do so since the formation of the Football League. Even if the Rhinos manage to get into the top level of soccer in America at some point in 20 years, the 1999 cup run will still be the highlight in club history. When people in the soccer world find out I’m a Rhinos supporter, the cup trophy is the first or second thing they mention (before or after lamenting that Rochester never got an expansion franchise from MLS at our height).
Even though only 8 teams not playing in the top level of English football have ever won the cup, the possibility exists every year. In the United States, the chances may be smaller for lower level clubs because of the relatively low number of teams in the competition but not all teams take the tournament seriously. 763 teams entered the competition for the 2011-12 season in England, with 124 clubs duking it out in the cup “proper”. Compare that to only 40 teams competing in the proper rounds of the U.S. Open Cup.
Every year teams from the second and third divisions of American soccer cause upsets. This year the Richmond Kickers of USL Pro beat two MLS clubs, at Columbus Crew and at Sporting Kansas City, before falling to the Fire in Chicago. Though it didn’t happen for Richmond, USL teams often host their MLS opponents during the cup. Rochester won the right to host the Chicago Fire in the Third Round match this season and if they advanced the New York Red Bulls in the Fourth Round. Though the Fire squeaked out a 1-0 victory (playing many first-team players), the atmosphere at Sahlen’s Stadium was electric. Match-ups like this can only be good for American soccer at every level.
Because of the vast geographic expanse of the United States, away support is largely absent. If you ever watch Tottenham play away matches in England, just listen to the crowds. Undoubtedly you will hear the Spurs supporters yelling louder than the home fans who outnumber them 5 or 6 or 7 to 1. This is a phenomenon that hasn’t had the chance to flourish and only exists in small pockets; Galaxy fans at Chivas home matches (they play in the same stadium), the Pacific Northwest rivalries and perhaps games between Philadelphia and New York . The cup allows away support to play a larger role. In the first three rounds of the tournament, teams are paired up according to geographic region which makes it easier for supporters to travel with their teams to away matches.
Here is a really good piece about tweaks to the U.S. Open Cup from SB Nation.
This is the unofficial site for Open Cup archives and qualifying information run by some good guys.
Tuesday night saw FC Dallas travel to Tukwila to take on Seattle Sounders at their alternate stadium while the Chicago Fire hosted Richmond Kickers. I had the pleasure of watching the Dallas-Seattle match online and it was a real brilliant showcase of American soccer. Richmond gave the Fire a run for their money at the end of the match due to a late surge, but ultimately failed to kill the giant who have won the competition four times before. The match in Washinton state was much more open and flowing soccer with chances coming at both ends. You could feel the urgency with which both teams were playing in the second half as Dallas pushed for the equalizer and Seattle applied a full-court press, their forwards not letting Dallas control possession in their back-line.
The final is lined up as Seattle will host Chicago from the CenturyLink Field (formerly Qwest Field) on October 4th. Chicago will attempt to win their record-tying fifth trophy all time, while Seattle attempts to keep their perfect record in the competition and take home their third straight title. This is the life-blood of American soccer and most fans don’t even know.