Next week, FC Cincinnati starts their third year in the 105th United States Open Cup, entering the national knock-out competition in the second round. The story last year may have ended in heartbreak in the semifinals, but the national attention made the final prize much more desirable. The tournament itself has been gaining steam as streaming services allow more games to be viewed by a national audience.
While FCC awaits their first opponent, the first round is starting in earnest. Amateur teams from Division IV and lower take aim at each other before matching up against the USL in the second and third rounds. The MLS teams join in the fourth round, and the bracket is trimmed down until a singular team is crowned in September.
The turnover in the amateur ranks is constant and unpredictable, but there are still exciting teams and games to witness. Here is a list of five games that could set the dominoes for this year’s next shocking upsets.
(Games can be accessed at ussoccer.com, but there is no guarantee that all of these games will be streamed online.)
5. FC Tucson (PDL) vs. La Máquina FC (UPSL)
Wednesday, May 9th, 9:30PM ET
FC Tucson – 5th appearance.
La Máquina – 3rd appearance.
La Máquina FC is one of the more notable names from the United Premier Soccer Leagues, a fifth-division league that covers 19 states and 90 teams. “The Machine” is one of three UPSL teams that made a dent in the 2016 U.S. Open Cup. La Máquina defeated their rival, L.A. Wolves, in the third round, only to next be eliminated by L.A. Galaxy in added time. While they have a UPSL title to their name, La Máquina also are known for controversy—the team was suspended for six games in 2015 after a player-fan altercation.
Meanwhile, FC Tucson has steadily made ripples in the PDL’s Southwest Division, having won four straight divisional titles. While they have not won a PDL title yet, the team managed to surprise teams in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup, upsetting the then-NASL San Antonio Scorpions in the second round. Their local dominance in the PDL and partnership with the USL’s Phoenix Rising may have been a cornerstone for their next step—FC Tucson was named the second “founding member” for the upcoming USL Division-III experiment.
4. Lansdowne Bhoys (CSL) vs. Brooklyn Italians (NPSL)
Wednesday, May 9th, 8PM ET
Lansdowne – 2nd appearance.
Brooklyn – 11th appearance.
The cancellation of the 2018 NASL season threw an early wrench in the works, forcing some teams to retreat to the NPSL. While Miami FC and Jacksonville Armada got past their play-in competition, the Brooklyn Italians managed to slip past the New York Cosmos 3-2 to set up an intriguing match between two different types of teams tied to history.
The Italians’ current players were likely not even born the year when they were the cream of U.S. soccer. Brooklyn is one of America’s oldest teams, founded back in 1949 as a social club for Italian immigrants. While the team has changed its name and affiliations many times over the years, success has accompanied them. They have won the U.S. Open Cup twice (1979, 1991) and got as far as the second round of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup the following years. Since their return to the NPSL in 2010, the team has been in the USOC six times, reaching the third round in 2014 before losing to…the New York Cosmos.
While Lansdowne’s history is not rooted as deeply, the team is still rooted in community. Based in Yonkers, Lansdowne has been the recent pride of New York amateur clubs, having won the local Cosmopolitan Soccer League four years in a row and the National Amateur Cup in 2017. The team forged bonds in an affiliation with Celtic FC in 2016, the same year they shocked the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the U.S. Open Cup second round.
With both teams anxious to face North Carolina FC in the next round, this rumble in New York City will be fun to watch.
3. Portland Timbers U-23 (PDL) vs. Kitsap SC (NPSL)
Tuesday, May 8th, 10PM ET
Timbers U-23 – 5th appearance.
Kitsap SC – 7th appearance.
The setup for the U.S. Open Cup became a little more complicated in 2015. Teams that were “majority owned by a higher-level Outdoor Professional League Team” could not be allowed to play in the tournament. However, their U-23 teams could participate, but could not face their parent club until the finals.
This has opened the door to a little-known rivalry being resumed in 2018. The Portland Timbers U-23 squad and Seattle-based Kitsap Pumas both used to be members of the PDL’s Northwest Division. Since the inception of both in 2009, Kitsap has held a distinct advantage with four divisional titles and a national title in 2011, while Timbers U-23 won their division and a national title in 2010.
Kitsap’s advantage has even held serve in the U.S. Open Cup, having appeared six times to Timbers U-23’s four. While Portland’s team hasn’t gotten past the second round, Kitsap got as far as the fourth round in 2016 by upsetting Sacramento Republic on the road. The teams have not played each other since Kitsap moved to the NPSL in 2017, so this game could set off some intense regional fireworks.
2. Reading United AC (PDL) vs. Christos FC (USASA)
Wednesday, May 9th, 7PM ET
Reading – 12th appearance.
Christos – 2nd appearance.
FC Cincinnati may have been the Cinderella of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup, but that’s not to say they enjoyed the entire spotlight. The glass slipper fit Maryland-based Christos FC just as well.
The amateur unit sponsored by a liquor store may not practice together regularly, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t succeeded. The team captured multiple local titles in 2016, including the USASA National Amateur Cup. CFC became the early story of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup tournament as the last amateur team standing, beating two Division-IV teams and Richmond Kickers (USL) before succumbing to D.C. United late in the fourth round.
Christos FC’s run may not be so easy this time around. Reading United AC has been to this party before. Originally the Reading Rage in the USL D-3 Pro League, Reading joined the Philadelphia Union as their U-23 affiliate in 2009 and has made the PDL playoffs seven times since then. While 2018 will be the tenth-straight year that Reading United has qualified for the Cup, they don’t just show up as a consolation prize. Reading has won their first-round USOC game the past six years and have twice reached the third round.
1. Detroit City FC (NPSL) vs. Michigan Bucks (PDL)
Wednesday, May 9th, 7:30PM ET
Detroit City – 4th appearance.
Michigan – 15th appearance.
The U.S. Open Cup tends to match up teams that are geographically near each other. While their stadiums are only 25 miles apart, you wouldn’t find two teams more diametrically opposed to each other.
The Michigan Bucks are inarguably one of the PDL’s most prestigious teams during the league’s 23-year history. Since their debut in 1996, the Bucks have won 14 division titles, had the best nationwide record four times, and won the PDL Championship three times (2006, 2014, 2016). Because of their lower-level success, they have appeared in 14 U.S. Open Cup tournaments, the most of any Division-IV team. The Bucks also made it to the third round six times, with their furthest run in 2012, when they made it to the fourth round. The Bucks are arguably the closest thing to an amateur-soccer dynasty in the United States.
If the Bucks are the shiny side of a quarter, Detroit City FC has to be the unpolished side of that same coin. The team may not be as glamorous, but they are worth the same exact value to the U.S. soccer landscape. Started in 2012, DCFC has been one of the most eclectic teams in the NPSL, their power coming from tight bonds between ownership, fans, players, and the community. Their attendance has steadily risen to almost 6,000 per game, and their supporter group’s refusal to conform has made them both grass-root darlings and soccer-pyramid rebels. The team was penalty kicks away from defeating Louisville City in the 2016 Open Cup second round and got as far as the NPSL national semifinals last year.
So far, Michigan and Detroit have faced each other twice in Open Cup play. In 2015, Michigan rode three first-half strikes to defeat DCFC in the first round. However, DCFC got an ounce of vengeance, winning in penalties in the 2016 first round. This could be the juiciest matchup of the first round, as the eventual victor is guaranteed to give FC Cincinnati a run for their money in the second.
What games have sparked your interest? Which Michigan-based team will FC Cincinnati face in the next round? Let us know what you think!