History of the Cup
CHICAGO (Aug. 26, 2009) – While the phrase is familiar, many people might not realize the history that is represented when told that the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the oldest national annual tournament for team sports in U.S. history. Started back in 1914 as the National Challenge Cup, the U.S. Open Cup is almost as old as the United States Soccer Federation itself, which was founded as the United States Football Association in 1913. The tournament was a first real attempt at determining a national champion in soccer, because previous attempts often failed due to the distance and cost of getting two regional champions across the country in an era without modern day planes, trains and automobiles.
Modeled after European cup tournaments such as the F.A. Cup that allows any and all entrants (from amateur, neighborhood clubs up to major professional teams), the tournament is a chance for even the smallest underdogs to get a legitimate shot at proving themselves against the country’s best. In the United States, professional soccer as it is known today was largely non-existent until the mid 1960’s. Even the first professional teams in the American Soccer League during the 1920's and ‘30's were mostly employer-supported teams—factories and businessmen would offer jobs and wages to European players wanting to come to the U.S., if they in turn would play on the company club team while working for the owner.
A glance at some of the most historic clubs, such as Bethlehem Steel from Pennsylvania and Maccabi S.C. from Los Angeles (both five-time U.S. Open Cup winners) as well as Greek American AA (the only team to win three consecutive titles) and the Brooklyn Italians, illustrate America’s history as a nation of immigrants. Many clubs in major cities were founded by and consisted of immigrants or the children of immigrants who had learned soccer overseas and brought their own style of play to the U.S. In addition, their team names often reflect the national makeup of the neighborhood they played in, such as the four-time champion Philadelphia Ukrainians.
While the tournament itself has persisted annually since 1914, the trophy awarded to the winning team changed after several decades of use. The Dewar Cup, given to the American Amateur Football Association in 1912 by Sir Thomas Dewar (of the Dewar whiskey distillery) was originally purchased for $500 and given by the sportsman and philanthropist in the hope of promoting soccer in the United States. The cup was first awarded to the Yonkers Football Club (N.Y.) in 1912 after they defeated the Hollywood Inn Football Club (N.Y.) in New York City. The trophy was then adopted as the official U.S. Open Cup trophy and given as the championship to the Brooklyn Field Club, inaugural winners of the National Challenge Cup in 1914. Given to the champion until 1979, it was temporarily retired before returning refurbished and presented to the winners of the 1997 and 1998 tournaments. It has since been permanently retired and is now on display at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y. Despite this, the names of winning clubs are still added to the base of the trophy while the teams take home silverware in the form of the U.S. Open Cup.
With the inclusion of MLS clubs in the tournament starting in 1996, most amateur and lower-level professional sides now face a much more difficult task reaching the championship game. In fact, an MLS team has won the title every year since their inclusion, save for one. Despite the challenge, one USL First Division team managed to run through the competition in 1999 as the Rochester Rhinos defeated four MLS clubs en route to claiming their only Open Cup title.
In 1999, the tournament was renamed the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup to honor Lamar Hunt, a pioneer of the professional game in the U.S. One of the original founders of the North American Soccer League and, later, MLS, the Arkansan also founded the Kansas City Wizards and owned both the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas clubs at the time of his passing in 2006. Perhaps his biggest legacy in American sports, however, might be in reference to the other kind of football—it was Hunt who suggested the name Super Bowl for the sport’s annual championship game. His influence on the United States sports landscape is illustrated most plainly in his inductions to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the National Soccer Hall of Fame, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In receiving the Medal of Honor from the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Hunt joined an illustrious group of only three people to receive the honor.
With all that in mind, you can see why teams who are in the midst of fighting for playoff spots in their leagues as well as other international tournaments still strive to win this trophy. Winning it does not simply get you a championship, it gets your name entered into the ever growing history of soccer in the U.S.