Why you should care

Because if you need proof that the U.S. has finally embraced soccer, look no further than this summer-long tournament. Plus, you can still get tickets!

In the 1920s, the USA had a major annual soccer tournament. Crowds of more than 10,000 would turn out to see teams like the Fall River Marksmen, Bethlehem Steel and Scullin Steel play for the trophy. Just like England’s FA Cup, it allowed amateurs and part-time pros to test their skills against the best clubs in the country.

That tournament’s still going.

Underdog stories are part of the Cup. Six times since 2000, an amateur team has beaten an MLS team.

Now in its 101st year, the U.S. Open Cup reflects the chaotic past and promising present of U.S. soccer. The tournament was a grand prize for the pro teams of the 1920s and ’30s, but it was left in obscurity for amateurs and semipros for decades, ignored by the flashy North American Soccer League (NASL) of the 1970s, and then given new life when teams from Major League Soccer (MLS) and other pro leagues embraced the tournament in the 1990s.

This year’s first round kicked off in early May, but you still have plenty of time to get in on the action as MLS teams join the fray on June 11, and play continues all the way through September. Yes, we know your attention may be drawn to another Cup in Brazil, but who says you can’t watch two soccer tournaments at once?

One of the most exciting aspects of the U.S. Open is that it’s still “open,” welcoming amateur teams alongside pros. Software developers hanging on to their youthful glory and college kids on their summer teams can advance through the Cup to wind up facing off with the likes of Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan in a real competitive game. Pros in the two leagues below MLS can show their strength, and old clubs can wake up the echoes.

With the tournament expanded to a record 80 teams this year, not counting qualifying rounds, more clubs have a chance to make or reclaim their names. New York alone has two former U.S. Open champions who have survived several turbulent generations of U.S. soccer: NY Greek American Atlas (1967, 1968, 1969, 1974) and Brooklyn Italians (1979, 1991). Both amateur teams advanced to the third round this year before losing to pro teams.

The Cup is very important, and we’re taking it very seriously.

The Brooklyn Italians lost to one of the most familiar names in soccer — the New York Cosmos. The name once associated with Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and other international legends has been revived. With a 2-0 victory, the Cosmos advance to the fourth round.

“The Cup is very important, and we’re taking it very seriously,” said Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese. “We want to make sure we respect every team we play against. Having the opportunity to play in the U.S. Open Cup allows us to be part of a prestigious competition.”

Alessandro Noselli #22 of the New York Cosmos plays the ball against the Brooklyn Italians during the third round of the U.S. Open Cup at Belson Stadium on May 28, 2014 in Jamaica, New York. The Cosmos defeated the Italians 2-0.

Alessandro Noselli #22 of the New York Cosmos plays the ball against the Brooklyn Italians during the third round of the U.S. Open Cup at Belson Stadium on May 28, 2014 in Jamaica, New York. The Cosmos defeated the Italians 2-0.

Source Mike Stobe/Getty

The amateur teams aren’t likely to win the Cup these days. In the nearly 20 years since MLS launched, no amateur team has reached the quarterfinals, and the only non-MLS team to win the tournament is the Rochester Rhinos in 1999.

But underdog stories are part of the Cup. Six times since 2000, an amateur team has beaten an MLS team. The other pro teams are both predator and prey — winning nearly a third of their games against MLS teams, but sometimes losing to amateurs.

Consider the Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads of the USL Pro league. The Hammerheads have upset two MLS teams – Dallas in 2003, Chicago in 2009. But they lost to the amateur Mid-Michigan Bucks in 1997. In 2012, they lost to amateur team Cal FC, which went on to beat the MLS Portland Timbers. This year, Chattanooga FC became the first amateur team from the NPSL to beat a pro team — also the Hammerheads.

The Open Cup winner, in addition to a trophy and some cash, advances to international play in the CONCACAF Champions League, facing tough teams from Central America and the Caribbean, as well as Mexico’s traditional powers. Win that, and a team could end up in the Club World Cup against the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Corinthians.

In this tournament, anything is possible.

Key Matchups

  • New York Red Bulls (MLS) at New York Cosmos (NASL), June 14: The revived Cosmos of the revived NASL, now a second-division league, get their first shot at the region’s top-tier team.
  • D.C. United (MLS) at Rochester Rhinos (USL Pro), June 17: The perennially overachieving Rhinos have nine wins over MLS teams in the Open Cup, but they’re 0-4 against United, dating back to the 1996 final and most recently in the 2009 semifinal.
  • Orlando City SC (USL Pro) at Colorado Rapids (MLS), June 17: The Orlando City organization will field an MLS team in 2015. Like Seattle before them, Orlando will try to make one more big statement in the Cup first.
  • PSA Elite (USASA) at Seattle Sounders (MLS), June 18: An amateur team meets the three-time champions. But the game won’t be at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, where 40,000 fans routinely turn up for league games. They teams will play at a smaller venue with a cozy capacity of about 4,500.
  • MORE: Top 14 Open Cup teams and every upset of the last 18 years
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