The US Open Cup is one of the underground gems of the United States soccer history and also represents the brightest of the United States soccer future. While most fans of domestic club teams know about the US Open Cup, few MLS fans put any stock in it. As well, the casual US National Team fan and European club team fan have hardly heard of the tournament at all. This means that early rounds of a tournament with FA Cup potential ends up feeling more like a pre-season tournament to the 4th round when the MLS teams enter.
For the smaller clubs in the lower leagues of the USSF soccer pyramid who begin competing in the 1st and 2nd rounds, the US Open Cup provides an opportunity to create local derbies and rivalries that otherwise would have no reason for surfacing in competitive competition. Not only that, it presents a chance to upset a professional team in a “Giant Killing.”
On April 6th, 13 of the best adult soccer clubs across the US along with 14 of the top NPSL teams and 19 of the top PDL teams were drawn into 23 matches to be played in the first round. The winners of those 23 matches along with 17 USL clubs, as well as the defending PDL and NPSL champs, were drawn into 21 second round match ups. The first round will take place on May 11th with the second round to be played on May 18th.
Here are my most intriguing 1st round matchups, potential 2nd round matchups and storylines to watch for in the early rounds of the US Open Cup.
Detroit City FC (NPSL) at Michigan Bucks (PDL)
Separated by about 30 miles on Michigan’s eastern side, these two teams rarely meet in competitive matches because they are in different leagues. This also is a rematch of their 2015 US Open Cup first round tie that saw the Bucks beat Detroit City 3-0. This new and growing rivalry presents the showpiece event of the first round of the cup ties.
The Michigan Bucks are always a team to keep an eye out for in the Cup because they are one of the few teams to have upset MLS opposition in multiple cups. They beat the New England Revolution in 2000 before falling to the Miami Fusion on penalty kicks in the next round. They also upset the Chicago Fire in the 2012 Cup. Besides these MLS upsets, they have also beaten numerous other professional teams through the years in the Cup. On top of that they are one of only 4 teams to have won 2 PDL titles.
The visitors for this game, Detroit City FC, represent a different kind of success. US soccer fans across the US are keeping an eye on their supporters group, known as the Northern Guard. They are one the largest supporters groups in US let alone NPSL. Fans of soccer around the country can only think that this organization is going to be one of the next to move up into the USL or the NASL. Without doubt, this is the best first round matchup.
CD Aguiluchos USA (NPSL) at San Francisco City FC (US Club Soccer/PDL)
My number 2 pick is a San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge Derby. CD Aguiluchos USA, pay tribute to an El Salvadorian team, but play their home games in Oakland California. By now, most US soccer fans have heard of supporter-owned SF City FC and the great soccer culture they are creating in San Fransisco. The Oakland vs. San Francisco Rivalry is one of the best in other top US professional sports leagues. For example, the Oakland Raiders vs. the San Francisco 49ers, and who can forget the Oakland A’s vs. the SF Giants and their famous 1989 Earthquake World Series. This rivalry, if played regularly, would be great for US Soccer. However, the difference in leagues prevents it from happening outside of the US Open Cup. The best part of this match is the winner scores a ticket to Bonney Field to travel to arguably the best atmosphere in the USL to face Sacramento Republic.
The 10 NPSL vs. PDL Matchups; Which 4th Tier is Better?
My 3rd pick is not a game specifically, but a story line to see which 4th tier league is stronger. As many know, USSF sanctions what is 4th tier and this can seem quite arbitrary. The NPSL and PDL function on slightly different models but are both sanctioned as part of the 4th tier of the US soccer pyramid, or the highest level of amateur soccer. The Cup again gives us a small glimpse to try to determine without promotion relegation which league is stronger with these 10 NPSL vs. PDL matchups.
With 6 PDL teams and 4 NPSL teams each hosting home matches out of these 10 total matchups, it is close enough to even so that we might be able to gain a little bit of knowledge on which is the stronger 4th tier league. If one of the leagues wins 8 or more of these games we can say with some certainty which league is getting and developing the better local talent, at least for the 2016 season.
Two other NPSL vs. PDL matchups in round one to keep an eye on outside the two mentioned above are two more intra-state matchups: first in Northern California, Burlingame Dragons FC (PDL) at Sacramento Gold (NPSL) and in Florida, Kraze United (NPSL) at The Villages SC (PDL).
Best of the Rest
Lansdowne Bhoys FC (USASA) at Long Island Rough Riders (PDL)
A New York match up between a top adult soccer team and highly successful PDL team.
Boca Raton FC (USASA) at Miami Fusion FC (NPSL)
A South Florida Derby featuring one of South Florida’s top adult soccer teams vs. a NPSL team.
ROUND 2 Possibilities
Charlotte Independence (USL) at Charlotte Eagles (PDL)
The most intriguing second round possibility has to be a potential Charlotte Derby. The Eagles have been around since 1991 and have won tittles in 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 them selves from the USL to the PDL, choosing instead to focus on player development in their soccer-rich state. The Independence, a separate ownership group with the hopes to get Charlotte a MLS team, picked up the franchise rights and established a USL team to replace the Eagles starting in the 2015 season. This is the first meeting of the two sides in a competitive match since then. The history of the two clubs passing the Charlotte professional soccer torch makes for an intriguing second round possibility, especially with many fans having changed allegiances between the two clubs in 2015.
San Francisco City FC (PDL) at Sacramento Republic FC (USL)
My next pick yet again features supporter-owned SF City FC. The SF City 51% fan-owned model is a dream that all supporters wish existed for their club. However, with the US franchise model it is very difficult to pull off a fan-owned model above the 4th tier of the US Soccer pyramid. This potential match up gives the PDL club a chance to show themselves at a high level. The possibility of traveling to one of the best atmospheres and home fields in US soccer (Bonney Field), and to a club ready made for an MLS franchise, this is the best possible match up SF City could have hoped for. Because of the way that both SF City and Sac Republic are organically growing soccer in their cities, they represent two of the best soccer stories in the country making the potential match up that much more exciting.
Seattle Sounders FC U-23 (PDL) at Kitsap SC Pumas (PDL Champs)
While not featuring a professional team, this second round matchup is just fine with out one. The defending PDL Champions, Kitsap SC Pumas, received a buy through to the second round. The Bremerton, Washington team could play the academy team of the Giants of the Washington soccer region, the Seattle Sounders U-23. While regular rivals in the PDL’s Northwest Division, this matchup represents a chance for top players from opposite sides of the Puget Sound to show who is producing the best young talent in the soccer rich-state of Washington. There is no question that we will see players from both sides of this matchup in MLS some day.
Albuquerque Sol FC (PDL) at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (USL)
This matchup is a preview for the future as Albuquerque Sol FC represent the highest level of Soccer in the state of New Mexico. The ownership group has made no secret about their interest in moving up to a professional soccer league. With the PDL’s existing partnership with the USL, a move to the USL seems most likely in the next year or two. This would set up a border war and potential rivalry cup in the USL between Colorado’s Switchbacks and New Mexico’s Albuquerque Sol. This matchup gives viewers a nice preview of this future potential USL Rivalry.
Best of the rest
There are also a few other potential intra-city and intra-state rivalries that could take place in the second round of the cup, which also would have no other way of being played in a competitive match were it not for the US Open Cup.
Corinthians of San Antonio FC (NPSL) at San Antonio FC (USL)
Cincinnati Dutch Lions FC (PDL) at FC Cincinnati (USL)
Chesterfield United (NPSL) at Richmond Kickers (USL)
Jersey Express (PDL) at New York Red Bull’s U-23 (PDL)
Arizona United SC (USL) at FC Tucson (PDL)
You can see the entire Cup draw here
It is time for the USSF and MLS to start to treat the US Open Cup like the English FA and the EPL treats the FA Cup; it could prove vital in the growth of US soccer.