With the news that Nashville FC would be playing its first game in the US Open Cup at MTSU (May 14) against South Georgia Tormenta FC 2, I find myself excited once again about our prospects. After defeating MLS side the Colorado Rapids last year en route to the Round of 16, I am beginning to have dreams of a deep run in this sometimes overlooked tournament.
“It’s the most completely unique tournament in American sports,” says Josh Hakala, author and editor of thecup.us, a website dedicated to full coverage of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Hakala observes that while everyone loves the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tourney--where you always have the potential rush of watching a Number 16 seed defeat a Number 1 seed--the Open Cup takes it to an entirely differently level in which a Sunday league amateur team could find itself matched up against an MLS team late in the tournament. “In basketball, the teams may be of different quality, but they are all loosely in the same league,” notes Hakala, “With the Open Cup, you have some teams that barely have time to practice going up against the highest level of professionals.”
When asked to give his example of the most interesting run in modern US Open Cup history, Hakala points to the 2006 Dallas Roma FC team. Qualifying out of the USASA Region III tournament, the PDL side’s first game was against another PDL team, the Laredo Heat. The two teams were still tied after 120 minutes, but Dallas won 4-2 in the shootout. They played Round 2 at home in Dallas against USL’s Miami FC—the top offense in the USL first division at the time. Despite a huge advantage in shots, Miami ended up with two players with red cards and lost 1-0. Next up, Dallas Roma went up against MLS soccer side Chivas USA, and, after another long game, they won in penalties 4-2. While they ultimately lost to the LA Galaxy in the next round by a 2-0 score, it was one hell of a run. It’s David killing Goliath week after week.
Given that this is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the US (this year marks the 106th edition), the tournament is filled with a history of upsets and surprises. The sheer fact, for example, the one of the most successful clubs ever was one formed in Los Angeles as a recreational Sunday team for Israeli expats (Maccabi Los Angeles) hints at the Cups’ interesting history, as does the fact that Greek American Atlas Astoria was one of only two clubs to win the Cup three years straight.
Hakala argues that the fact that all of the games will now be on ESPN+ is a huge step forward for the Cup. Not only does he think that more professional streams will bring a sense of higher legitimacy to the games than did some of the “set a camera up and let it run” streams from past years, but he also feels that it makes it even less likely that a professional side will be out a C or D team to play.
As Hakala notes, one of the reasons that many teams should be fielding strong sides is because winning the Cup is by far the easiest route into Champions League. More, as he points out, this is true even if that team happens to be a USL side. While no USL team has won the Cup since the 1999 Rochester Rhinos, he points out that the Charleston Battery made it to the final in 2008, and he would expect a strong USL team to someday upset the odds and win it again.
I would love to see Nashville SC and their fans take the Cup seriously and be the USL team to do it. Let's slay the giants.