by Brian Trusdell -
The First Round of the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup kicks off on Wednesday with eight matches across the country. U.S. Soccer will stream Mass Premier vs. Western Mass Pioneers as the “Game of the Round” on ussoccer.com, with kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET.
In many ways, Wednesday’s first-round match between Mass Premier and the Western Mass Pioneers appears to be a typical early round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup clash.
The game, one of eight first-round matches and set to be streamed as the “Game of the Round” on ussoccer.com, might sound a little sexier and get a little more attention if Mass Premier was still called by its original name – Monsters of the Apocalypse – MOA for short.
“How the name came about, it’s hard to track down,” said Dan MacGregor, who with Nick Christman, has been the team’s co-player/manager for the past six years. “It supposedly came from a post-game cooler. I wasn’t there, but the stories are kind of rumors, and I’m not sure which ones are true.”
The match is a microcosm of the 101-year-old event. It is a game that pits two local sides, an adult amateur club against a regional PDL rival, little known, if at all, beyond their geographic boundaries, both hoping for a chance to realize a dream of playing against the pros and a little soccer glory.
And with each team, comes a unique story.
For Mass Premier, besides its tailgate-inspired original 1999 moniker – which changed in 2008 when the club received sponsorship from Mass Premier – the match marks the pinnacle of a soccer career for the 29-year-old MacGregor, 28-year-old Christman and several of their teammates. MacGregor and Christman are playing and managing their last season and are transitioning leadership to two of their younger teammates – Harris Smriko, 26, and Tyler Macnee, 24.
Christman is moving to New York, and MacGregor – who played a summer with the New England Revolution reserves, realizes “it’s not as easy to run up against guys 22 years old anymore.”
With players as old as 32 and an average age of “26 or 27,” Mass Premier is a team almost exclusively recruited from Boston-area colleges such as Harvard, Dartmouth, Northeastern, Boston College and Division III’s Williams. It also has to rely on a little guile and gray matter to win, MacGregor said.
“We’re quite a smart team,” he said, mentally reviewing a roster that includes players that work in tech and finance, along with “two or three” doctors.
Mass Premier, which plays in the Bay State Soccer League – a Boston-area amateur league, has a little bit of an advantage in that it already has played three league games this year, not including Sunday’s qualifying match against Lansdowne Bhoys of Manhattan for the 2015 U.S. Open Cup.
It contrasts with Western Mass, which can include only eight players over 23, and has a roster with “some guys (who) work in an office, others are managers and others work construction,” according to their manager, Federico Molinari.
Western Mass plays in the Northeast Division of the PDL’s Eastern Conference and is not scheduled for its first league match until May 16. Molinari says his college-dominated roster, as is the nature of the PDL, puts his club at a further disadvantage.
“This game is too soon for us,” Molinari said. “I have a lot of college players. This coming week is the week of final exams. I’m probably not going to have everybody.”
Neither team is uninitiated in the Open Cup. This is both teams’ second straight year competing and Western Mass has played “four or five” times before, Molinari said.
A win Wednesday at Western Mass’ home Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Massachusetts, would mean a trip to Rochester, New York, and a second-round match against the USL PRO (Division III) Rhinos, who beat the Colorado Rapids in 1999 to win the Open Cup.
Another win would mean a game against an NASL team and then maybe against an MLS team.
“Playing the Revolution or the Rochester Rhinos, that’s a dream come true,” MacGregor said. “We’d probably take a plane to fly to Rochester. It would be a miracle to upset, say, the Revolution, especially for guys who train once a week on Thursdays and play Saturdays.”