First Touch

100 Years Of The US Open Cup

The top leagues are now officially over, as opposed to being technically over since Christmas or thereabouts. The major European cup competitions will follow suit in short order, and then that will be that. We are now officially in the final countdown to World Cup 2018 in Russia, with under thirty days to go. The pilot has turned on the No Smoking sign. Please fasten your seatbelts. As the world’s eyes turn to Moscow, where the best players in the world will converge to do battle for the game’s ultimate prize, there will be another tournament of some merit going on here in America: the US Open Cup.

Tim Hall’s View From 101

OK, judging by the chirping of crickets and the tumbleweed that blew across your monitor, the Open Cup doesn’t exactly fill anyone with the same electricity as do some other, billion dollar tournaments this summer that we might mention. That’s fine. The great thing about this tournament – the Magic of the Cup, if you’d like – is that there’s something in it for just about everyone, and everyone can make that little facet their pet project, and make it stand for whatever they would like for it to mean.

Now in its 105th edition, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is one of the longest-running knockout football competitions in the world, and it pits teams from all strata of American soccer against one another for bragging rights as the true champion of the country, as well as the eponymous trophy. The early rounds are now under way, with the top tier teams joining later this summer. It’s the equivalent of the FA Cup or the Copa del Rey with which fans of the game overseas might be more familiar.

Leveling The Playing Field

Some will try to tell you that these opening round games, with groups of semi-professionals knocking the ball around on a college field on a weeknight, are the true essence of the beautiful game, where the heart and soul lies, hoping that will stir up some sleeping passion in your gut.

You never know which of these teams might possibly make a run and knock off the big boys; it’s the magic of the cup! Fans who could not be bought by the big corporate sports behemoth take their places on metal bleachers. Granted, there usually aren’t many such people, but, hey, quality over quantity.

ESC logo for US Open Cup article

Only, the illusion of this being the game played the proper way gives away its tricks when you watch the pregame warmups and a player’s partner delivers their clearly forgotten shinguards 15 minutes before kickoff. When you have a pretty good idea that the man working the public address system is also the one who will be cutting the checks. When the backup goalkeeper is behind you in line for the restroom at halftime.

Minnows Pool

For all those miniature sides that need to make due on a shoestring budget, there were some deeper pocketed clubs who had to mingle in. The North American Soccer League was supposed to be the big heavyweight challenger to the throne occupied by Major League Soccer, but for a number of reasons to numerous to recount right now, the NASL imploded over the last two years, much to the consternation and conspiracy theory of those convinced it would one day at least enter into a promotion and relegation agreement with MLS.

Most of the NASL’s teams either straight out shut up shop or jumped over to the surviving second division league, the USL. But a couple of teams in NASL – New York Cosmos, Jacksonville Armada and Miami FC – have held on to try to navigate the ship away from the coast, with Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso as the figurehead leader of the fight to reestablish the NASL with assorted offers of financing to do so.

After appeals, all three teams were allowed to enter in to the Open Cup in a play-in round, leading Commisso to say “I said that I would continue to fight for the Cosmos and for independent soccer. This is a win off the field and now we have a chance to win on it.” Miami and Jacksonville did win on the field, the Cosmos, for all their aspirations and funding, did not.

Welcoming Detroit City

The holes in the “the world’s game the way you like it!” banner also appeared over Ohio. FC Cincinnati is one of the crown jewels of the second tier teams, routinely drawing thousands of fans in impressive fashion. FCC entered into the US Open Cup by welcoming Detroit City FC, one of the most interesting draws of the fourth tier. Which is to say that Cincinnati welcomed the Detroit players and staff, and not too many others.

It turns out that Cincy, either out of carelessness or malice of forethought depending on who you ask, did not set aside anywhere near enough tickets for traveling Detroit support. The final number that will ultimately filter down to DCFC visiting support is 28. That’s not a typo, that’s not short hand for two thousand and eight hundred. That’s your fingers and your toes, your eyes, your ears, your hands, your feet. Twenty eight.

Probably for the best, however, since even if you were among the lucky two dozen and thensome to win a lottery for tickets, you won’t be afforded anything in the way of security in any way, shape or form apart from what everyone else in the stadium will be getting.

Strange Magic

So on the off chance that things get sideways during the game and some hundreds of Cincinnati fans feel like taking out their frustrations on roughly the number of people for a fun tug-of-war at a company picnic, there’s nothing stopping them, aside from maybe some part-timers in bright yellow shirts. And this is because nobody at US Soccer thought it was worth writing these fairly obvious laws down, and therefore nobody at FC Cincinnati much felt like following tradition just for the sake of it.

If you watch the Open Cup games this summer and get a kick out of them, that’s great. Lower level soccer in this country is not anywhere near the point where it can be picky about where they draw their viewers from. And despite some cautionary tales, yes, the USOC really is a fun tournament with a lot of good points. Unfortunately anyone who tries to exalt the Open Cup as anything more than that probably has their own personal objectives at stake, and as such, risks revealing that the magic of the US Open Cup is merely slight of hand.

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