The US Open Cup is back and the draw is out, with 56 teams that will take part in a total of 28 1st round matches. There are 17 open qualifying teams, 21 PDL sides, and 18 NPSL clubs entering the competition at this stage. The winners of this round were also drawn into potential 2nd round match-ups vs. 6 NASL and 18 USL sides entering at the 2nd stage of the tournament, with a few 1st round winners facing each other.
Here are the 1st round matchups that I find most intriguing, along with potential 2nd round matchups.
El Farolito (California) vs. Burlingame Dragons FC (PDL)
The best 1st round matchup features the only former Open Cup Champion entering in the 1st round of the cup this year. El Farolito, founded in 1985 and named after the owner’s chain of restaurants in San Francisco, play their soccer in the local San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL). They have previously won the US Open Cup in 1993 under the name Club Deportivo Mexico. They have also won the National Amateur Cup and multiple SFSFL tittles. El Farolito will be matched up against a 3rd year PDL side and 3 time Open Cup participants from down south on the San Francisco Peninsula, the Burlingame Dragons. The Dragons are the PDL affiliate of the San Jose Earthquakes. They are turning out more than their share of MLS players and prospects, including current Earthquakes defender Nick Lima who played with the Dragons last season, as well as multiple MLS super draft picks. The match will be played at 3 pm on a weekday because the home field, Boxer Stadium of the SFSFL and El Farolito, does not have lights. This will make for an old school Open Cup viewing, with an afternoon kick off on a weekday to beat sun down.
Des Moines Menace (PDL) vs. AFC Cleveland (NPSL)
The Des Moines Menace has played a major role in the history of the US Open Cup. The Club was founded in 1994 and has achieved huge success in both the PDL and the Open Cup. They have also been one of the top attended PDL sides for more than a decade. This is the 11th trip to the US Open Cup for the Menace. In 7 of their previous 10 trips, they were able to get out of the 1st round. Their best run in the Cup came in 2005 when they knocked off 3 USL sides, beating the Pittsburg Riverhounds, the Charleston Battery, and the Atlanta Silverbacks, before falling to MLS side, Kansas City Wizards. More recently, the Menace knocked off NASL side Minnesota United in 2013 and beat USL Tulsa Roughnecks just last season. They will face the defending NPSL Champions, AFC Cleveland. Cleveland is entering its second ever Open Cup, having reached the 2nd round last year.
Michigan Bucks (PDL) vs. AFC Ann Arbor (NPSL)
The Michigan Bucks will play host in the 1st round of the Cup. The Bucks are the defending PDL champions and have won the PDL 2 of the last 3 years. They are the only 3-time PDL champion. The Bucks also have a rich history in the Open Cup having played in the tournament 13 previous times, including 9 trips past the 1st round. They have beat multiple pro sides in their history, including twice upsetting MLS clubs. The first time they did this was in 2000 when they went to the 3rd round, beating the New England Revolution, before falling to the Miami Fusion on penalties. Then they did it again in their best ever Cup run, reaching the 4th round by upsetting the Chicago Fire in 2012. The Bucks will play host to NPSL intra-state rivals, Ann Arbor, who made their league playoffs In their first NPSL season and are playing in their first ever Cup.
Other Good Match-ups
Western Mass Pioneers (PDL) vs. Boston City FC (NPSL)
Intra-state rivalry between 2nd year NPSL side, Boston City, and former USL D-3 Pro Champs, Western Mass Pioneers, who are playing in their 10th Open Cup.
Albion SC Pros (NPSL) vs. Chula Vista FC (Calif.)
Two San Diego County Clubs face off.
FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. AFC Cleveland (NPSL)
The most intriguing potential 2nd round matchup has to be the possibility of the current NPSL champs traveling to the USL’s best-attended side in 2016. In its 1st season, FC Cincinnati averaged more than 17,000 fans a game, making them instantly one of the most talked about clubs in North American Soccer. The 5th year NPSL side, AFC Cleveland, was busy winning their first ever League championship. This matchup would feature two cities from the same state that each have multiple professional sports franchises. This could be one of the best soccer derbys in the country. This is the second appearance in the Cup for both clubs, having both been featured in the Cup last season.
San Francisco Deltas (NASL) vs. El Farolito (Calif.)
El Farolito, if able to get past the 1st round, would get to face new local pro side, the SF Deltas of the NASL. What could be better than a former Cup champion and local amateur power in El Farolito welcoming the newest San Francisco pro side in town with an Open Cup match? This would be a big matchup for the San Francisco soccer history books. Unfortunately, the match will take place at Stanford University, and not at Kezar Stadium, Deltas home, otherwise it might of at the top of the list of matchups. But nonetheless, the matchup itself is as good as it gets.
Charlotte Eagles (PDL) vs. Charlotte Independence (USL)
Just like last year, the potential Charlotte derby is a juicy one. The Eagles have been around since 1991 and have won tittles in multiple different 3rd tier sanctioned professional leagues in their history and have played in as high as the 2nd tier. However, following the 2014 season, the organization self-relegated from the USL to the PDL, choosing instead to focus on player development in their soccer-rich state. The Independence is a separate ownership group that picked up the franchise rights and established a USL team to replace the Eagles starting in the 2015 USL season. This would be the second meeting between the two sides in the Cup, with the Independence picking up the win 2-0 in the 2nd round last year.
Other Good Match-ups
Sacramento Republic FC (USL) vs. Sonoma County Sol (NPSL)
Two rivals in close proximity in Northern California, where both sides are among the strongest clubs in their respective leagues.
Tulsa Athletic (NPSL) vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC (USL)
Tulsa Derby between a pro and amateur side.
Louisville City FC (USL) vs. Derby City Rovers (PDL)
Potential derby between a USL power and PDL side, who play their home matches across the Ohio River in Indiana.
Fredericksburg FC (NPSL) vs. Richmond Kickers (USL)
Intra-state matchup between long time USL side, Fredericksburg, and more than 30 year old NPSL side, Richmond Kickers. Both of these Virginia-based Clubs out date the MLS.
Albion SC Pros (NPSL) vs. San Diego Zest (PDL)
Potential for a NPSL vs. PDL San Diego Derby.