The U.S. Open Cup: What you need to know as Louisville City preps for the first round
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Wednesday, Louisville City Football Club will begin the team's first quest for a U.S. Open Cup. It's a unique competition in the United States and mirrors similar competitions around the world – one that allows underdogs the opportunity to fight their way into matches with major league teams.
“We're looking forward to it. It'll be a tough game,” head coach James O'Connor said of the team's opening round. “It'll be a massive game for Lansing and ourselves.”
It's a tournament that begins with qualification for a number of amateur teams and gradually filters in higher level clubs until MLS teams square off with those teams left for a shot at the U.S. Open Cup trophy.
“We plan on making a run,” Captain Matt Fondy said of the U.S. Open Cup. “We're gonna treat it like every other game though. We're gonna implement our strategy and try and get as far as we can.”
For their first round, Louisville will take on National Premier Soccer League club Lansing United in Michigan. Due to a scheduling conflict with the Bats at Louisville Slugger field -- and the lack of availability of an alternate stadium -- Lansing won the bid to host Louisville's first round match.
But O'Connor pointed out how preparation for lower level teams can be tricky.
“The problem for us with Lansing is that there's no real way of finding out information about them. I mean, we do a lot of detail on who we play and the issue for us with them is that the game (their first round game) wasn't streamed and it's proving difficult to get a lot of information on them,” O'Connor said.
The NPSL is recognized as the fourth tier in United States soccer alongside the USL Premier Development League, in which local side Derby City Rovers compete. Louisville City's league, USL, sits in the third tier below the top tier Major League Soccer (MLS) and the second tier North American Soccer League (NASL).
The Premier Development League and the NPSL are semi-pro leagues offering salaries to players willing to forgo their amateur status. However, teams also offer opportunities for college players to earn professional level experience while maintaining their amateur status. For example, New England Revolution defender and number one draft pick Andrew Farrell played with the Derby City Rovers in the PDL before graduating from the University of Louisville.
The U.S. Open Cup is no stranger to Cinderella stories for lower level teams. In 2012, amateur club Cal FC (United States Adult Soccer Association) took down the Wilmington Hammerheads (USL) and Portland Timbers (MLS) en route to the round of 16.
O'Connor says the mindset remains the same going into the competition and his team plans to compete at the highest level.
“I mean it'll be the same,” he said. “We'll recover and we'll do our due diligence.”
The intermingling of amateur and professional sides in the tournament is attractive to fans of Europe's promotion/relegation league format -- in which teams can work their way up to the highest level -- as well as similar competitions like England's Football Association Cup.
Founded in 1914 as the National Challenge Cup, the U.S. Open Cup entered its 102nd edition this year, making it among the longest-running annually held soccer competitions in the world.
The Rochester Rhinos is the only USL team to have won the cup, defeating the Colorado Rapids in the 1999 championship. USL's Charleston Battery fell to the Rapids in the semi-finals of that cup.
The winner of the U.S. Open cup earns a berth into the CONCACAF Champions League alongside the winners of a few other domestic titles including the Canadian Cup and the MLS Cup. Last year, the Seattle Sounders defeated the Philadelphia Union to win the club's fourth U.S. Open Cup title.
Louisville City is already facing four league games within three weeks and the added matches could become a burden on the team's energy.
“The issue for us is trying to manage the games that we have because we play Lansing on Wednesday, Saint Louis Sunday. The games are coming, ticking fast so it's a massive game for us on Wednesday and we need to approach it in the right mindset,” explained O'Connor.
Several injuries have hindered a few of Louisville's players and filling the sideline has already been a struggle. So the added competition can be worrisome, but O'Connor says the team is ready to cope.
“There's not a whole lot you can do except try and manage it and that's what we've tried to do and that's what we'll continue to do.”
While the U.S. Open Cup puts more pressure on teams with added games throughout the season -- as the finals won't be played until late September -- it gives teams and players the chance to punch above their weight. It's something Louisville Goalkeeper Scott Goodwin is no stranger to, as he was named 'player of the round' by thecup.us writers in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup when the Carolina Railhawks (North American Soccer League) ousted the LA Galaxy (MLS) in a 1-0 win.
"[Goodwin] had one of the best performances I've ever seen," U.S. Soccer star Landon Donovan told Indy Week after the game.
But as the single-elimination tournament kicks off, Fondy says the team will take it one game at a time and approach each one the same as any other.
“We're not going to treat them any different than another team,” Fondy said of the team's first round opponent. “They're gonna be fired up, they're going to want to be playing us and come out there and show what they can do, so we're gonna do the same.”
The 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup:
Number of teams competing: 91
Named for: Hall of fame owner and long-time U.S. soccer supporter Lamar Hunt, who died in 2006
The prize: The Dewar Challenge Trophy
2014 Champions: Seattle Sounders
1914 Champions: Brooklyn FC
Louisville City FC vs. Lansing United
Wednesday, May 20 - 7 p.m. ET
East Lansing Soccer Complex; East Lansing, Mich.
No live stream
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