Open Cup 101: Taking a closer look at the "March Madness" of American soccer

All you need to know about America's oldest soccer tournament

 

The U.S. Open Cup is back as a wide array of United States Soccer Federation affiliated teams, ranging from amateur adult club teams to professional Major League Soccer clubs compete for the glory and the coveted prize money.

The oldest ongoing cup competition in United States soccer, the U.S. Open Cup was first held in 1914 and based on England’s Football Association Cup format. In the inaugural year, the Brooklyn Field Club won the national title by defeating the Brooklyn Celtics in Pawtucket, R.I. The tournament was originally referred to as the National Challenge Cup before it was renamed the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 1999 after one of soccer’s most prominent patrons.

In its early years, the annual competition was largely dominated by clubs in the East’s urban centers. Bethlehem Steel (Pa.) commanded the period between 1915 and 1919 as the club won four titles in the five year span. They added to their total in 1926 when they recorded their record fifth championship, a feat that only two other teams have accomplished. Fall River F.C. is the only other club from the East with five Open Cup titles as they took home five crowns in the period between 1917 and 1931 to tie Bethlehem Steel. Maccabees S.C. of Los Angeles is the only western club and the most recent to reach a prolific five titles as they were victorious in 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1981.

Top-tier professional soccer clubs were a distant minority in the U.S. Open Cup until Major League Soccer joined the tournament in 1996.

Since joining the tournament, the MLS has won all but one US Open Cup. The only team to win outside the MLS in that time span was the Rochester Raging Rhinos (USL A-League) in 1999 when they defeated four MLS teams including the Colorado Rapids, 2-0 in the finals.

Since the Philadelphia Union’s inaugural season in 2010, they have competed in four U.S. Open Cup tournaments, going the farthest last season before a semifinal loss to fellow MLS side and eventual winner Sporting Kansas City. The Union will kick off their 2013 run on Tuesday, May 28 when it hosts USL PDL side the Ocean City Noreasters (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets).

The Philadelphia Union got off to a quick start in their first Open Cup appearance by defeating the Rochester Rhinos 3-0 in the third round. The team followed up their strong performance with a hard fought win against rival DC United in the fourth round by a final of 2-1. The Quarterfinals provided an intriguing matchup as the Union competed against their affiliate, the Harrisburg City Islanders, and defeated them decisively, 5-2. Coming off three strong performances in the tournament, Philadelphia was faced with the challenge of playing Sporting Kansas City in the semifinals. The Union’s run was ended with a 2-0 loss to Kansas City who eventually went on to win it all.

Philadelphia Union affiliates, Reading United AC and The Harrisburg City Islanders have also competed in the tournament in recent years. Reading had some success last year as they made it to the second round, but have had some struggles in the tournament. On Tuesday, May 21, the club got off to an ideal start in secnd round play defeating Harrisburg to advance and play MLS' New York Red Bulls franchise next round.

Read: Reading takes improbable victory over Harrisburg in Open Cup play

Despite coming up short, Harrisburg, has its their fair share of success in the tournament recently. The club has made three quarterfinal appearances in the last four years, as many as perennial champion Seattle has made in recent memory, with their latest arriving last season when they fell to the Union. 

Contact Union writer Howard Hutchinson at hhutchinson@philadelphiaunion.com