U.S. Soccer
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US Soccer

The Beljulji Brothers & Fargo’s Fusion

During the Yugoslav wars and chaos of the 1990s, Sunaj Beljulji (pronounced Bell-Jull-Jee) found himself growing up in a Bosnian refugee camp, kicking around a soccer ball at age three with his older brothers. For three years after that, he and his nine siblings did what was necessary to survive, and to find makeshift fields and free corners to play the game that kept them dreaming.

“All I remember is we didn’t know or have much there,” Beljulji told ussoccer.com in a recent interview. “The U.N. helped us, and we mostly played soccer – barefoot, whatever, whenever we could.”


(Sunaj Beljulji is a powerful presence up front for NPSL side Dakota Fusion)

He is still playing soccer, and still doing it with two of his brothers. Now, though, the Beljuljis are playing for the Dakota Fusion of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), heading for a First Round match on May 9 away to Duluth F.C. in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It often sounds like a cliché when players refer to their club as a family, but in this case, it’s at least partly true.

Sunaj Beljulji is a starting forward and midfielder for the Fusion, who scored two goals with nine assists last season. Emran Beljulji plays midfield and Habib Beljulji is the team’s backup goalkeeper.

On at least a couple of occasions last year, all three of the brothers were on the field at the same time for the Fusion. The club plays its home matches in Moorhead, Minn., just outside of Fargo, N.D., and features an international mingling of players that includes Ghanaians, Liberians and Brits. The Beljuljis, who escaped Serbia during those dark years, are ethnic Albanian Muslims.

From Far & Wide to Fargo
“Africa, Europe, you name it, we have it on this team,” Beljulji said. “We all come from different places and countries, but roll the ball out and we unite. Doesn’t matter where you’re from. On the field we’re all one team. Everybody speaks English. But when we’re in a game, we speak our own languages so opponents don’t know what we’re saying. That’s what is so cool, this international cast.”

Although outsiders may not think of the Fargo/Moorhead area as a melting pot, the region draws a sizable immigrant community for work opportunities and its three area universities. After first moving to Atlanta from Bosnia, the Beljuljis migrated northwest. In addition to playing soccer for the Fusion, the three brothers work full time at different jobs while caring for their parents.


(Emran Beljulji works the midfield for the Fusion, looking to feed his brother Sunaj)

Sunaj makes his living giving rides to seniors with a Fargo-based transportation company. For the moment, however, he is mostly concentrating on the upcoming soccer season and a chance to play in the 105th edition of the U.S. Open Cup. A new coach, Nick Becker, from the University of Jamestown, has taken over the Fusion reins and has been working the team hard in preparation for the tournament.

New Coach, New Approach
“So far, we only had a few practices and a game, but he means business,” Sunaj Beljulji said of the new man in charge. “He’s very serious. He’s going to get us to go far.”

The Fusion qualified for the Open Cup after a 2017 season where they won nine games and lost five, earning a trip to the NPSL playoffs. The Fusion split a pair of matches last season with Duluth F.C., their First Round Open Cup opponents next month, though Beljulji believes it is “a hundred times harder” playing them on the road than it is at home. The matchup still represents quite an opportunity for the Beljuljis and Co.

When Sunaj first heard from former coach Jim Robbins that the club might qualify for the tournament, he was skeptical. Now, he’s ecstatic!

Opportunity Beyond Belief
“Honestly, I remember last year our coach telling us at a banquet, there was a possibility we could be joining the Open Cup, and I was thinking, ‘Sure we will,’” Beljulji admitted. “Then it happened. It’s amazing for me, my brothers and the whole team. It’s a chance to show we have skills around here, not just in the big cities. We have a lot of talent in this area.”

The aptly-named Fusion was founded just two years ago by Sajid and Amanda Ghauri, who were looking to create a semi-professional opportunity for gifted young players in the region.


(Habib is the last line of defense for Dakota Fusion - the team's back-up goalkeeper)

“I had been sending them off to different tournaments, but the kids had quite a challenge in getting to that next level,” Ghauri said. “They were frustrated, not getting the opportunity. It’s hard getting sponsors in this area, because they don’t know soccer very well. We’re a hockey town. So, my company budgeted some money to get the new club started.”

All Aboard the Fusion Bus
Ghauri, who came to America from Pakistan 30 years ago, has worked for 17 years in the telecommunications industry and founded Network & Technology Solutions in Fargo in 2004. He’s been generous with his funding of the club, even providing the team with its own bus for road matches.

“We have to be thankful for Sajid,” Sunaj Beljulji said. “I think we’re the only team in NPSL that has a bus and we feel very privileged. That’s where most of the fun is, on the bus. Some players, their English is a little hard to understand, but we all end up laughing.”


(Dakota Fusion Owner Sajid Ghauri (left) presents the Golden Ball trophy to Jade Johnson)

Ghauri played and coached soccer himself for many years and is brimming with excitement about the upcoming Open Cup. Four members of the Fusion were offered professional contracts after last season, and Ghauri hopes there are more opportunities for the area’s players out there. And more contracts to come.

“This will give an opportunity to anybody who plays for our team,” Ghauri said. “To polish their skill set and exposure to scouts. We are not their next level. We are their steppingstone. The U.S. Open Cup gives us such exposure to our kids. We are celebrating the opportunity, for both the kids and the club too.”

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U.S. Open Cup Apr 17, 2018
US Soccer

Open Cup Rewind: ’95 Kickers – ‘Lightning in a Bottle’

Rumors swirled in 1995 about a new shot at a big-time professional league in the States. The old North American Soccer League’s magnificent collapse was still fresh and Major League Soccer was just a promise. A tease. It was in this fateful year, on the cusp of a new frontier for the game in America, that a top crop of young players, talented amateurs from the country’s best college programs, gathered in Virginia and caught what striker Rob Ukrop calls “lightning in a bottle” en route to the 1995 U.S. Open Cup crown.

“It was really a bunch of good guys,” said Richie Williams, the five-foot-four midfield engine, who went on to earn 20 caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team before becoming an assistant coach for the Stars and Stripes. “We were just trying to get a chance at being pros in a country where there weren’t a hell of a lot of pro options.”


(Richie Williams made a life in American Soccer - he's currently assistant coach for the USMNT)

Goalkeeper Jeff Causey, Williams’ teammate from the University of Virginia, was selling mobile phones for the summer after graduation when a call came in. “[Williams] said they were putting something cool together in Richmond and they needed a keeper,” recalled Causey, now a certified retirement planner living in Massachusetts. “When I heard all the names he was saying, I thought ‘wow, there’s gonna be a lot of quality in this team – NCAA champions and All Americans from all over – and I want in.’”

The heart of the team came from Bruce Arena’s early-90s University of Virginia program that won four straight NCAA Division One titles and lost only ten games – compared to 84 won – between 1991 and 1995. “A lot of the best players at the time were college kids,” said Ukrop, a tall and physically imposing All-American forward out of Davidson College and a native of Richmond. You couldn’t miss him on the pitch. He was a full foot taller than Williams and wore eye black on game days to cut the glare. “Technically we were amateurs, but we set that team up to play right and we had a lot of talent.”

The Old College Try
Brian Kamler, out of Omaha’s Creighton University, was the rare player in the team from west of the Mississippi. “There were rumors that MLS was going to start the next year, but who knew really?” the man they called Kam told ussoccer.com on an afternoon off from his job working logistics for a trucking company in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “Guys like us, from the big college programs, we really wanted to make a showing. There was competition built into the squad that way, but it was also clear that everyone was doing everything for the team.”

It all just clicked right off the bat, according to the ’95 Kickers, who delight in talking about those days 23 years ago. “We just gelled from the start,” said Ukrop, who had a short stint with the New England Revolution and scored the club’s first-ever goal when MLS got rolling the next year. “The chemistry was there right off,” added Kamler, in full agreement. “Nobody was shy. There was a special kind of vibe. If a guy needed to get back, you just told him straight up, ‘Hey, get your ass back.’”


(Goalkeeper Jeff 'Tex' Causey in action for DC United of MLS)

“The team was put together in a matter of weeks,” added Kamler, who went on to have a decade-long career in Major League Soccer, most notably with early league dynasty D.C. United. “I’ve never seen that before or since. After that first week, everyone was hanging out and like best of friends. It was really a unique thing that it happened so fast.” 

One key to the quick chemistry, that rare tension that only special teams have, was the coach. The name Dennis Viollet carried a lot of weight in his native Manchester, England. He survived the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 and scored 179 goals in nine seasons with Manchester United. He played twice for England, scoring once. “But he was the most unassuming figure you’d ever meet in you whole life. So quiet and so humble,” said Leigh Cowlishaw, the team’s English-born winger and current Kickers head coach. Ukrop, club president of the modern-day Kickers, fully professional and playing in the second division United Soccer League (USL), agreed: “[Viollet] was just an incredible gentleman. We didn’t even know it, but he was letting us learn on our own. He gave us the respect to find our own way.”

Competition Born in Training
Violett, who passed away in 1999 at the age of 65, may have been the quintessential English gentleman, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t let you know when you weren’t going about your business the right way. “I remember once I missed a real sitter,” Ukrop said, his head shaking. “I was open at the far post and I just straight-up missed an easy chance. Next thing I know my number’s on the board and I’m out. It was a quiet message, Dennis didn’t say anything, but I got the point. I wasn’t living up to the standard he expected.”

Training sessions revolved around small-sided games. It wasn’t a lot of tactical work, and just one lung-busting fitness session on Monday mornings, “He let the game be the teacher,” said Cowlishaw, who stayed with the Kickers after 1995, playing 152 times before moving to the coaching ranks. “We did a lot of five-a-side and the competition was fierce in those little games. Everybody in that 1995 team was a winner.”


(Leigh Cowlishaw is a Richmond Kicker for life - USOC winner as a player in '95 & current head coach today)

Chemistry was fostered off the field as well as on. After all, these were young men in the prime of their lives. They were out of school and away from home for the first time. “We all lived together in the same apartment complex – the whole team – and we had a lot of fun that year,” said Causey, a future MLS goalkeeper who was given the nickname Tex by Bruce Arena during his UVA days. “We all knew each other, either as teammates or opponents,” added Williams. “We had a lot of fun hanging around the pool in the complex where we all lived.”

Ukrop doesn’t remember the nightlife getting in the way of their play. “We’d go to dinner, go to the bars, go dancing,” he said. “But when it was time to play, we were all business.”

On the field, the 1995 Kickers were indomitable. They won the USISL Premier League (today’s Premier Development League - PDL), edging Florida-based Cocoa Expos in the League Final. As momentum began to pick up, talk of a ‘Double’ began to seep into training and among the boys out by the pool. “We knew it would be a challenge to win two titles,” Williams said. “But we wanted to win trophies and everything that was out there to be had.” And those Kickers also had a little chip on their shoulder, according to Causey: “We knew we’d be mixing in with the pro players from the A-League in the Open Cup and we were excited to take on the big guys. We wanted to show them up.”

Kickers Cut Through the Ranks in USOC
Richmond rolled over Fairfax Spartans in their 1995 Open Cup opener. A club with a proud tradition and founded by John Kerr Sr., the Spartans were in trouble from the start. But Coach Violett, who played in his share of FA Cups in England, knew the dangers of one-and-done competition. “He was really serious about it and he told us before the game, ‘the longer you leave a team like that hanging around, it’s just going to get tougher and tougher,’” remembered Kamler. The sage advice paid off, and the Kickers ran rampant in a 6-2 win.

Atlanta Ruckus were next up. This was a full professional team from the A-league, the top tier of American soccer at the time. “I remember it well,” said Ukrop, who had his cheekbone broken in the game by the elbow of John Doyle, a 53-time capped defender for the U.S. National team who played in the 1990 World Cup. “We ended up winning, but I was out for ten days and couldn’t finish the game with that broken cheek.


(Center-Forward Rob Ukrop joined MLS' New England Revolution before returning to Richmond)

The Kickers’ win against one of the biggest-spending teams of the era was fully deserved, and it was followed by a tense 4-3 win over the Chicago Stingers in the Semifinal. And that was that. The Kickers, a gang of college kids who didn’t like losing, were into the U.S. Open Cup Final. And while memories of the build-up have faded, they can all recall, in great detail, that Grand Final in El Paso, Texas. “There was a mariachi band to greet us at the airport,” remembered Ukrop with a chuckle. Causey added: “It was the farthest I’d ever travelled. It took forever to get there. We were just a few feet from the Mexico border.”

The heat of the day was particularly memorable. “It was the hottest temperature I’ve ever played a soccer game in,” said Cowlishaw, shaking his head all these years later. Ukrop concurred: “It was the hottest I can ever remember being, but none of us wanted to admit it. We were young and stupid and in our early twenties, so we felt invincible.”

Up Against it in El Paso
The Kickers, decked out in red, white and blue kit, were the underdogs. They were playing an El Paso Patriots side on their own home field with 13,000 or so fans in the stands – hardly any of them (family and friends aside) were pulling for the young visitors. The Patriots were a fully professional team from the top division, and they had a smattering of players with experience in the Mexican first division. Salvador Mercado, once of Chivas Guadalajara, was chief among them. The Patriots also played a short-passing style that was new to many of the Kickers. “They were really fast and quick on the ball,” Causey said. “It was the first time I’d played a team like that.”

The game, played in 90-plus degrees of South Texas heat, turned into an epic. It needed two periods of extra-time and eventually penalties to settle it. The Kickers played most of the second half a man down after Kevin Scott was sent off for a high, hard challenge.


(Brian Kamler (R) played for a decade in Major League Soccer)

Ukrop’s opening goal, from close range after some fine approach work from Cowlishaw, was equalized late in the second-half. The smart money was on Richmond collapsing in extra-time. “I had a lot of work to do in that extra-time period; I was very busy. The game just seemed to go on and on,” recalled Causey, who made a pair of diving saves in the dying moments to keep the score level. “In overtime I was cramping so bad, and we had used both of our subs, so I had to go up front and just try to hold the ball up,” said Richie Williams, the diminutive midfielder who likely never played target-man before or since. “I was done and couldn’t do the work in midfield anymore. I was just dead.”

In the end, the Kickers endured. “It’s funny, we were just one of those teams that always found a way to win,” Cowlishaw said. “Didn’t matter what we were up against.”

Causey the Hero; Cue the Celebrations
Causey made two more big saves in the shootout and Michael Brady, one of the team’s older players and future Duke and American University head coach, scored the decisive penalty. The win sparked off massive celebrations on the pitch before the players, drained after 120 minutes and a shootout in brutal heat, collapsed in exhaustion. “This was before you had IVs on the sideline,” Ukrop said. “We went straight for the water bottles.”

After some recovery back at the hotel, those with an interest in celebrating gathered in the lobby. Causey picks up the story: “Me and some of the guys crossed the border into Mexico that night on foot. I remember, maybe, there was a nightclub. I’m pretty sure I remember a bar too,” he laughed. “It’s safe to say we had a pretty good time.”

The ’95 Kickers are cagey about the details. But they had every reason to celebrate long and hard. Not just the Open Cup triumph on the day, but an historic double by a group of amateurs who found that little bit of magic, so rare in sport. And life.  

Most of the starting XI on that hot day in El Paso went on to have careers in Major League Soccer, which – as promised – started up the next year. They went on win trophies and fulfill their big dreams of big-time pro ball. In 1996, MLS’s inaugural year, Williams, Causey and Kamler won another double with the league’s first dynasty – D.C. United. But none of them seem to light up about it like they do when they revisit that wild ride of 1995, when they were young and playing the game they loved with their friends. All living together like a family. “We were a bunch of young guys who liked each other and liked playing with each other,” said Ukrop, nearing the end of his stroll down memory lane. “And that can take you a good long way.”

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U.S. Open Cup Apr 13, 2018
US Soccer

Kramer Runager - Remember the Name

When a Santa Ana Winds FC assistant coach pronounces his name wrong, Kramer Runager’s quick to set him straight. It’s Runager (like RUN-ah-GRR not ROON-ah-GRR). He’s not vain. And he’s far from a diva, but it’s clear that his name – his dad’s name and his granddad’s too – matters much to this 27-year-old striker.

“I always correct people when they get it wrong,” Runager tells ussoccer.com at a training session under dim floodlights in Orange County, California. You get a sense that people foul up his name a lot. ROON-ah-GRR’s as good a guess as RUN-ah-GRR, really.  “I want people to be clear about it. It’s mainly for my father and my grandfather – they passed it on to me and I want to wear it with all the pride I can.”  


(Max Runager won Super Bowl XXIII with the 49ers in 1984 - one of two)

When Runager was growing up in Williamsburg, Virginia, no one got the name wrong. Kramer’s father, Max, was an American football star and local celebrity. He was an uncommonly nuanced punter in the NFL for 11 seasons and won two Super Bowls – one with the San Francisco 49ers and another with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kramer’s granddad, Geb, still going strong in his 90s, coached his son to a high school football state championship in his hometown of Orangeburg, South Carolina. It’s safe to say none of the 13,000 or so residents there get Runager wrong either.

Lord of the Rings
“My dad gave one of his Super Bowl rings to my grandfather and he wore the other one all the time when I was a kid,” remembers Kramer. He’s built sturdy, with wavy blond hair. He’s tall and cuts the figure of an All-American sports star. He’s the spitting image of the old black-and-white photographs of his dad from his NFL heyday. Max was generous with his time when Kramer was little, always willing to spin a story or two for strangers he’d meet on the street. “He’d take the ring off. Let them try it on. He’d answer any questions they had about it. About what it was like to play in the Super Bowl.” 

Remember your name. That was a particular piece of advice Max gave out to his three sons when they were of an age to head out on their own. Kramer’s voice catches in his throat when he speaks the words. They’re his dad’s words. Maybe he hears his voice in his ears. It’s a wonder he keeps it together at all, there with his teammates doing laps on the turf behind him. Max Runager, Kramer’s father and a larger-than-life figure, died of a blood clot alone in his car a few months before. He was only 61, and it’s still a fresh wound.


(Kramer Runager, 27, has the full respect of his younger Santa Ana Winds FC teammates - photo Mike Janosz)

Max Runager never pushed his three sons to the sport he loved. Rare is the father who doesn’t, especially when that passion burns so hot it becomes a career at the highest level. “I really respect him for that, for not pushing football on us,” Kramer says of his father. “I tried football early in high school, but I just didn’t get the kind of vibe I got from soccer. I didn’t get that same excitement.” 

You get the sense when talking to Kramer, that growing up in the Runager household wasn’t exactly an episode of Father Knows Best on loop. A long NFL career takes a toll on a body. And when the bright lights faded, they left a hole in Max’s life. He sold medical equipment as he grew, every year, a little farther away from life in the spotlight. You sense as much conflict as respect when Kramer talks about his dad. It’s a family after all and families are made up of people, humans with frailties, not myths.

While Max’s exploits on the football field were the stuff of legend, Kramer’s idol growing up was older brother Kolby, seven years his senior. He was a ball boy at big brother’s high school soccer games. He watched on from a little kid’s low vantage, looking up at bigger bodies, at the collisions and competition. The speed of it all. That’s where Kramer fell in love with soccer. “I remember my little brother at those games,” said Kolby, who earned a full soccer scholarship to the University of South Carolina before getting “bit by the acting bug” and heading out for the West Coast. 


(Max Runager in his college football days with the South Carolina Gamecocks)

“There was always an unspoken competition between Kramer and me,” added Kolby, who flirted with the qualifying stages of the Open Cup himself, in 2002, with Williamsburg Legacy. “He’s so much better than I ever was and that was one of his first goals. He wanted to win a state championship in high school like I did. Wanted to score more goals than I did. Wanted to be MVP. He was always trying to outdo me. And he did.” 

An older brother’s pride spills over when he talks about a time, on a recent family vacation in Florida, when he and his little brother had a kick-around in the yard. “My mind was blown,” Kolby added, laughing at himself and in awe of his brother’s development. “I know what sets a great player apart from a good one. All of a sudden, my little brother’s like [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic – he had tricks that just made me feel old.”

Man Among Boys
It may sound like hyperbole, big brother’s pride exploding into exaggeration. But it isn’t. Kramer Runager is a special player. He’s got size, speed, foot skills and a keen eye. Comparisons to Brian McBride, the fearless and free-scoring American international forward, are not unwarranted. Kramer scored five goals in the Winds’ three qualifiers that saw the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) amateurs into their first Open Cup finals.


(Santa Ana Winds FC are heading into their first U.S. Open Cup - Runager top right - photo Mike Janosz)

Surrounded by players in their late teens and early 20s, Runager sets the tempo at training. He’s a man among boys and all eyes are on him. He never lets up. He’s relentless. A leader. Hell, he’s a Runager after all.

When his parents divorced he admits to “having a really hard time.” His college years were complicated as he dealt with the upheaval and the emotions. He pulled out of two schools before landing at Foothill, a community college in Los Altos, California. It wasn’t the end of the road; it was a place to build from. There he met Tom Liner, head coach of the school’s soccer team and a man who’d have a profound impact on his life.

Liner knew Runager was special straight away. “When I made him my team captain, he took it very seriously,” said Liner, the first-ever goalkeeper for the San Jose Clash (now the Earthquakes) in MLS’ inaugural year of 1996. He was the first professional soccer player Kramer had ever met. “We had guys from a lot of different backgrounds, nationalities and socioeconomic situations, but Kramer made them feel like part of a family. Everyone looked to him, in games and in training. Other players reacted to him. No one wanted to let him down. He drove them on.”

Kramer got hold of his life and upped his game. He spent the next two years excelling at Chico State, an NCAA Division II power. Then he hooked up with Eric Wynalda (thanks to an intro from his old Clash teammate Liner) and the Cal FC amateurs who shocked the Open Cup in 2012 with a win over the Portland Timbers. Kramer was on the verge of signing for Wynalda and the Atlanta Silverbacks, then of the North American Soccer League – the second tier of American professional soccer. But he had a semester of college to finish, and the opportunity passed.


(Santa Ana Winds FC train on a chilly night in Orange County, CA - - photo Mike Janosz)

“I had a back-up plan,” Runager said. Predictably, it wasn’t your average Plan-B. He decided to become an An Air Force Combat Controller – one of the toughest jobs in the armed services, an elite Special Forces team of battlefield airmen who work under the toughest stresses imaginable. “It requires a lot of strength,” Kramer said, with his knack for understatement. “I trained for a whole year on my own even before I enlisted. You have to run, swim, carry hundreds of pounds on your back. I learned so much discipline there that I swear it’s made me a better soccer player.”

Injury halted Runager’s Plan-B. He suffered a concussion in training and was ruled out. Faced with taking a different job in the Air Force, or waiting a year to have another run at it, Kramer returned to Plan-A: Soccer. And he went for it with gusto.

Pro Soccer Dream Still Alive
“I’m 27 now, and I know that’s not young,” says Runager, who’s immersed in soccer. He plays at night and on weekends, coaches during the days. He’s not one to do something halfway – ask anyone who knows him. “I still want to play professionally. I want to play at the highest level I can until I can’t play anymore. I may not be on the right side of my 20s, but I can tell you this: I’m a better player now than I was before. In every way I am. All I need is someone to believe in me.”


(Runager was SAWFC's top scorer in #USOC2018 qualifying, scoring five times in three games - photo Mike Janosz)

Tom Liner still believes in his old captain from Foothill, a school full of long-shots and low-hopers. “The Open Cup can really get you there,” he said about Runager’s chances of kicking down the door on a pro career, even at his age, with a good run in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup, which kicks off on May 8. “He’s one of these players that’s just so hungry. You only see a player like this maybe once every ten or 12 years. All he needs is to be seen, for someone to take a chance on him. He can be a big deal in MLS. I’m sure.”

Kramer remembers one last piece of advice from his dad. It sticks with him, on the verge of a last charge at his own dreams, his own spotlight. His arms are crossed behind his back and he's eager to return to training and the buzz of the game he loves more now than ever before. “Never leave a job half done,” he says. His father’s words just hang there, before turning to mist in the cool California air.

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U.S. Open Cup Apr 11, 2018
US Soccer

Second Round Pairings and Host Scenarios Set for 2018 U.S. Open Cup

CHICAGO (April 11, 2018) – The Second Round pairings and host scenarios have been set for the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer's National Championship. On May 16, the 22 teams from the United Soccer League (USL) will enter the tournament to play against Open Division winners (Local Qualifiers, PDL and NPSL) from the First Round of games scheduled for May 8-9 across the United States.

In addition, the venue for the highly-anticipated First Round matchup of PDL power and 12-time Open Cup participants Reading United AC and Christos FC, the darlings of the 2017 tournament, has changed to Alvernia University in Reading, Pa.

Home teams for each round are determined by a random selection process among those clubs that have applied to host and whose venues meet the minimum tournament requirements.

2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Second Round Schedule

Northeast Region

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 16

North Carolina FC (USL) vs. Brooklyn Italians (NPSL)/New York Cosmos B (NPSL)/Lansdowne Bhoys FC (N.Y.) winner

7 p.m. ET

Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park; Cary, N.C.

May 16

Charlotte Independence (USL) vs. AFC Ann Arbor (NPSL)/Ocean City Nor'easters (PDL) winner

7 p.m. ET

Mecklenburg County Sportsplex; Matthews, N.C.

May 16

Erie Commodores FC (NPSL) vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (USL)
-or-
Rochester River Dogz (N.Y.) vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (USL)

7 p.m. ET


7 p.m. ET

Gannon University Field; Erie, Pa.


Capelli Sport Stadium; Rochester, N.Y.

May 16

Reading United AC (PDL) vs. Richmond Kickers (USL)
-or-
Richmond Kickers (USL) vs. Christos FC (Md.)

7 p.m. ET

7 p.m. ET

Don Thomas Stadium (Exeter Twp. H.S.); Reading, Pa.
City Stadium; Richmond, Va.

May 16

Kingston Stockade FC (NPSL) vs. Louisville City FC (USL)
-or-
Louisville City FC (USL) vs. Long Island Rough Riders (PDL)

7 p.m. ET

7 p.m. ET

Tenney Stadium (Marist College); Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Woehrle Athletic Complex - Turf Field; Jeffersonville, Ind.

May 16

FC Motown (NPSL) vs. Penn FC (USL)
-or-
New York Red Bulls U23 (PDL) vs. Penn FC (USL)

7 p.m. ET

7:30 p.m. ET

Ranger Stadium (Drew University); Madison, N.J.
Red Bull Training Facility; Whippany, N.J.

May 16

Western Mass Pioneers (PDL) vs. Seacoast United Phantoms (PDL)/Kendall Wanderers (Mass.) winner
-or-
Seacoast United Phantoms (PDL) vs. Elm City Express (NPSL)
-or-
Kendall Wanderers (Mass.) vs. Elm City Express (NPSL)

7 p.m. ET


7:30 p.m. ET


TBD

Lusitano Stadium; Ludlow, Mass.


Seacoast United Sports Park; Amesbury, Mass.

Home Team TBD

May 16

FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. Detroit City FC (NPSL)/Michigan Bucks (PDL) winner

7:30 p.m. ET

Gettler Stadium (Univ. of Cincinnati); Cincinnati, Ohio

Southeast Region

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 16

Charleston Battery (USL) vs. Myrtle Beach Mutiny (PDL)/South Georgia Tormenta FC (PDL) winner

7 p.m. ET

MUSC Health Stadium; Charleston, S.C.

May 16

SIMA Aguilas (PDL) vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL)
-or-
Jacksonville Armada FC (NPSL) vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL)
-or-
Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL) vs. The Villages SC (PDL)

7 p.m. ET

7 p.m. ET


7:30 p.m. ET

Montverde Academy; Montverde, Fla.

Southern Oak Stadium (Jacksonville University), Jacksonville, Fla.

Al Lang Stadium; St. Petersburg, Fla.

May 16

Miami FC 2 (NPSL) vs. Miami United FC (NPSL)/FC Kendall (Fla.) winner
-or-
Miami United FC (NPSL) vs. FC Miami City (PDL)
-or-
Red Force FC (Fla.) vs. Miami United FC (NPSL)/FC Kendall (Fla.) winner
-or-
FC Miami City (PDL) vs. FC Kendall (Fla.)

7 p.m. ET


7:30 p.m. ET

8:30 p.m. ET
TBD

FIU Soccer Stadium; Miami, Fla.


Ted Hendricks Stadium; Hialeah, Fla.

Tropical Park Stadium; Miami, Fla.


Home Team TBD

May 16

New Orleans Jesters (NPSL) vs. Indy Eleven (USL)
-or-
Mississippi Brilla FC (PDL) vs. Indy Eleven (USL)

7 p.m. CT

7 p.m. CT

Pan American Stadium; New Orleans, La.

Clinton High School; Clinton, Miss.

May 16

Nashville SC (USL) vs. Charlotte Eagles (PDL)/Inter Nashville FC (NPSL) winner

7:30 p.m. CT

Vanderbilt Soccer/Lacrosse Complex; Nashville, Tenn.

Central Region

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 16

Tulsa Roughnecks FC (USL) vs. FC Wichita (NPSL)/OKC Energy U23 (PDL) winner

7 p.m. CT

Hurricane Soccer & Track Stadium; Tulsa, Okla.

May 16

Duluth FC (NPSL) vs. Saint Louis FC (USL)
-or-
Dakota Fusion FC (NPSL) vs. Saint Louis FC (USL)

7 p.m. CT

7 p.m. CT

Public Schools Stadium; Duluth, Minn.
Jim Gotta Stadium; Moorhead, Minn.

May 16

NTX Rayados (Texas) vs. OKC Energy FC (USL)
-or-
Fort Worth Vaqueros (NPSL) vs. OKC Energy FC (USL)

7:30 p.m. CT
7:30 p.m. CT

Richland Community College (Field 10); Dallas, Texas
Farrington Field; Fort Worth, Texas

May 16

Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (NPSL) vs. San Antonio FC (USL)
-or-
San Antonio FC (USL) vs. Lakeland Tropics (PDL)

7:30 p.m. CT

7:30 p.m. CT

Grande Communications Stadium; Midland, Texas

Toyota Field; San Antonio, Texas

May 16

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (USL) vs. FC Denver (Colo.)/Azteca FC (Colo.) winner

7 p.m. MT

Weidner Field; Colorado Springs, Colo.

West Region

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 16

FC Arizona (NPSL) vs. Phoenix Rising FC (USL)
-or-
Sporting AZ FC (Ariz.) vs. Phoenix Rising FC (USL)

7 p.m. MST
7 p.m. MST

John Riggs Stadium; Mesa, Ariz.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College; Chandler, Ariz.

May 16

Fresno FC (USL) vs. Orange County FC (NPSL)/Santa Ana Winds FC (Calif.) winner

7 p.m. PT

Chukchansi Park; Fresno, Calif.

May 16

Orange County SC (USL) vs. FC Golden State Force (PDL)/L.A. Wolves FC (Calif.) winner

7 p.m. PT

Orange County Great Park – Championship Soccer Stadium; Irvine, Calif.

May 16

Kitsap Soccer Club (NPSL) vs. Reno 1868 FC (USL)
-or-
Reno 1868 FC (USL) vs. Portland Timbers U23 (PDL)

7 p.m. PT

7:30 p.m. PT

Gordon Field; Bremerton, Wash.

Greater Nevada Field; Reno, Nev.

May 16

Sacramento Republic FC (USL) vs. CD Aguiluchos USA (NPSL)/San Francisco City FC (PDL) winner

7:30 p.m. PT

American River College; Sacramento, Calif.

May 16

Las Vegas Lights FC (USL) vs. FC Tucson (PDL)/La Máquina FC (Calif.) winner

8 p.m. PT

Peter Johann Soccer Field; Las Vegas, Nev.

Play-In Round

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 6

Jacksonville Armada (NPSL) vs. The Villages SC (PDL)

7 p.m. ET

Southern Oak Stadium (Jacksonville Univ.); Jacksonville, Fla.

May 6

FC Miami City (PDL) vs. Miami FC 2 (NPSL)

7 p.m. ET

Tropical Park Stadium; Miami, Fla.

May 6

Brooklyn Italians (NPSL) vs. New York Cosmos B (NPSL)

8 p.m. ET

Long Island University Brooklyn Athletic Facility; Brooklyn, N.Y.

First Round

Northeast Region

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 9

AFC Ann Arbor (NPSL) vs. Ocean City Nor'easters (PDL)

6 p.m. ET

Scicluna Field (Eastern Michigan Univ.); Ypsilanti, Mich.

May 9

Western Mass Pioneers (PDL) vs. Elm City Express (NPSL)

7 p.m. ET

Lusitano Stadium; Ludlow, Mass.

May 9

Long Island Rough Riders (PDL) vs. Kingston Stockade FC (NPSL)

7 p.m. ET

John Burns Park; Massapequa Park, N.Y.

May 9

FC Motown (NPSL) vs. New York Red Bulls U23 (PDL)

7 p.m. ET

Ranger Stadium (Drew University); Madison, N.J.

May 9*

Reading United AC (PDL) vs. Christos FC (Md.)

7 p.m. ET

Alvernia University Stadium; Reading, Pa.

May 9

Erie Commodores FC (NPSL) vs. Rochester River Dogz (N.Y.)

7 p.m. ET

Gannon University Field; Erie, Pa.

May 9

Seacoast United Phantoms (PDL) vs. Kendall Wanderers (Mass.)

7:30 p.m. ET

Seacoast United Sports Park; Amesbury, Mass.

May 9

Detroit City FC (NPSL) vs. Michigan Bucks (PDL)

7:30 p.m. ET

Keyworth Stadium; Hamtramck, Mich.

May 9

New York Cosmos B (NPSL) vs. Lansdowne Bhoys FC (N.Y.)
-or-
Brooklyn Italians (NPSL) vs. Lansdowne Bhoys FC (N.Y.)

7:30 p.m. ET

8 p.m. ET

Commisso Stadium (Columbia Univ.); New York, N.Y.

Long Island University Brooklyn Athletic Facility; Brooklyn, N.Y.

* Venue changed 4/11

Southeast Region

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 9

SIMA Aguilas (PDL) vs. The Villages SC (PDL)/Jacksonville Armada (NPSL) winner

7 p.m. ET

Montverde Academy; Montverde, Fla.

May 9

Charlotte Eagles (PDL) vs. Inter Nashville FC (NPSL)

7 p.m. ET

Mecklenburg County Sportsplex; Matthews, N.C.

May 9

Myrtle Beach Mutiny (PDL) vs. South Georgia Tormenta FC (PDL)

7:10 p.m. ET

North Myrtle Beach Sports Park (Field 6); Little River, S.C.

May 9

Miami United FC (NPSL) vs. FC Kendall (Fla.)

7:30 p.m. ET

Ted Hendricks Stadium; Hialeah, Fla.

May 9

New Orleans Jesters (NPSL) vs. Mississippi Brilla FC (PDL)

7 p.m. CT

Pan American Stadium; New Orleans, La.

May 9

Red Force FC (Fla.) vs. FC Miami City (PDL)/Miami FC 2 (NPSL) winner

8:30 p.m. ET

Tropical Park Stadium; Miami, Fla.

Central Region

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 9

FC Wichita (NPSL) vs. OKC Energy U23 (PDL)

7 p.m. CT

Adair-Austin Stadium (Friends Univ.); Wichita, Kan.

May 9

Duluth FC (NPSL) vs. Dakota Fusion FC (NPSL)

7 p.m. CT

Public Schools Stadium; Duluth, Minn.

May 9

Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (NPSL) vs. Lakeland Tropics (PDL)

7:30 p.m. CT

Grande Communications Stadium; Midland, Texas

May 9

NTX Rayados (Texas) vs. Fort Worth Vaqueros (NPSL)

7:30 p.m. CT

Richland Community College (Field 10); Dallas, Texas

May 9

FC Denver (Colo.) vs. Azteca FC (Colo.)

7:15 p.m. MT

Five Star Stadium; Thornton, Colo.

West Region

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

May 8

Portland Timbers U23 (PDL) vs. Kitsap Soccer Club (NPSL)

7 p.m. PT

McCulloch Stadium; Salem, Ore.

May 9

CD Aguiluchos USA (NPSL) vs. San Francisco City FC (PDL)

6 p.m. PT

Raimondi Park; Oakland, Calif.

May 9

FC Golden State Force (PDL) vs. L.A. Wolves FC (Calif.)

7 p.m. PT

Rio Hondo College; Whittier, Calif.

May 9

Orange County FC (NPSL) vs. Santa Ana Winds FC (Calif.)

7 p.m. PT

Orange County Great Park – Championship Soccer Stadium; Irvine, Calif.

May 9

FC Arizona (NPSL) vs. Sporting AZ FC (Ariz.)

7 p.m. MST

John Riggs Stadium; Mesa, Ariz.

May 9

FC Tucson (PDL) vs. La Máquina FC (Calif.)

7:30 p.m. MST

Kino North Stadium; Tucson, Ariz.

Play-In Round – May 5-6

  • Number of Games: 3
  • articipants: 6 – Jacksonville Armada (NPSL), New York Cosmos B (NPSL), Miami FC 2 (NPSL), Brooklyn Italians (NPSL), FC Miami City (PDL), The Villages SC (PDL)
  • Competition: A Draw was conducted on April 2, 2018 at U.S. Soccer Headquarters to arrange single-elimination Play-In games to allow Jacksonville Armada, Miami FC 2 and New York Cosmos B to take part in the 2018 tournament.

First Round – May 8-9

  • Number of Games: 26
  • Participants: 52 Open Division teams, including three Play-In Round winners
  • Competition: Teams will be paired geographically with the restriction that teams from the same qualifying pool (e.g. local qualifiers, PDL, NPSL) playing in their first game cannot be paired to play each other. The restriction may be disregarded if doing so avoids extensive travel on balance for the participating teams.

Second Round – May 16

  • Number of Games: 24
  • Participants: 26 First Round winners and 22 Division II (USL) clubs
  • Competition: After the First Round pairings are made, each Division II team will be matched geographically to a specific First Round pairing and be scheduled to play its winner. The remaining First Round matchups not paired with a Division II side will be paired geographically, with the winners playing each other to complete the round.

Third Round – May 23

  • Number of Games: 12
  • Participants: 24 Second Round winners play each other
  • Competition: After each Second Round matchup has been determined, the Second Round pairs will be bracketed geographically to create the Third Round matchups.

Fourth Round Draw – May 24

  • The Third Round winners and 20 Division I (MLS) clubs will be divided geographically into groups of four, with teams who are precluded from playing each other until the Final per tournament regulations (i.e. pro teams and their affiliated Open Division sides) placed in different groups. Each group will have at least one and no more than two Third Round winners, with pairs drawn randomly but done so that each Third Round winner faces an MLS team.

Fourth Round – June 6*

  • Number of Games: 16
  • Participants: 12 Third Round winners and 20 Division I (MLS) clubs
  • Competition: Twelve games will be between Third Round winners and MLS teams, while the remaining four matchups will be MLS vs. MLS affairs.

Round of 16 Draw – June 7

  • The Fourth Round winners will be divided geographically (regardless of league affiliation) into groups of four, with teams who are precluded from playing each other until the Final per tournament regulations (i.e. pro teams and their affiliated Open Division sides) placed in different groups. A random draw will determine the pairings within each group, resulting in a fixed bracket for the remainder of the tournament. Should a precluded pair of teams reach the Semifinal Round and be scheduled to face each other, the matches will be re-drawn after the quarterfinals to avoid this outcome.

Round of 16 – June 20* (also June 16-17 if home team chooses and visiting team has at least two rest days on each side of chosen date)

  • Number of Games: 8
  • Competition: Fourth Round winners face each other as determined by the Round of 16 Draw.

Quarterfinals – July 18*

Semifinals – August 8* (date tentative)

Final – September 26 (date tentative)

* Any game in the Fourth Round, Round of 16, Quarterfinal Round and Semifinal Round where one of the participants has a league game the following Friday will be moved up a day (exceptions to this occur when the team’s opponent is scheduled for a league game the preceding Sunday; in this case, the provisions in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Handbook to determine the match date will prevail). In addition, any game chosen by U.S. Soccer to be broadcast nationally is subject to being moved up a day. The Commissioner shall have the authority to set outside of the confirmed schedule the date for any match if such a change is in the best interests of the tournament.

2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Participating Teams

Professional Teams Eligible to Participate (42 total):
Division I - Major League Soccer (20 teams, entering in the Fourth Round): Atlanta United FC, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles FC, LA Galaxy, Minnesota United FC, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City (defending Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup™ champions).

Division II - United Soccer League (22 teams, entering in the Second Round): Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, FC Cincinnati, Fresno FC, Indy Eleven, Las Vegas Lights FC, Louisville City FC, Nashville SC, North Carolina FC, OKC Energy FC, Orange County SC, Penn FC (formerly Harrisburg City Islanders), Phoenix Rising FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, Reno 1868 FC, Richmond Kickers, Sacramento Republic FC, Saint Louis FC, San Antonio FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

Open Division Teams (55 total, with six entering in the Play-In Round and 49 in the First Round):
Local Qualifiers (13 teams, listed alphabetically by state): Arizona (1): Sporting AZ FC; California (3): La Máquina*, LA Wolves FC*, Santa Ana Winds; Colorado (2): Azteca FC*, FC Denver; Florida (2): FC Kendall, Red Force FC*; Maryland (1): Christos FC*; Massachusetts (1): Kendall Wanderers; New York (2): Lansdowne Bhoys FC, Rochester River Dogz; Texas (1): NTX Rayados*

Premier Development League (20 teams, listed alphabetically): Charlotte Eagles (N.C.)*, FC Golden State Force (Calif.)*, FC Miami City (Fla.), FC Tucson (Ariz.)*, Lakeland Tropics (Fla.), Long Island Rough Riders (N.Y.), Michigan Bucks*, Mississippi Brilla FC, Myrtle Beach Mutiny (S.C.), New York Red Bulls U23, Ocean City Nor’easters (N.J.)*, OKC Energy U23 (Okla.)*, Portland Timbers U23 (Ore.), Reading United AC (Pa.)*, San Francisco City FC (Calif.), Seacoast United Phantoms (N.H.), SIMA Aguilas (Fla.), South Georgia Tormenta FC, The Villages SC (Fla.)*, Western Mass Pioneers*

(The PDL is a nationwide league affiliated with the U.S. Adult Soccer Association and opted to use 2017 league results to determine its qualifiers for the 2018 Open Cup).

National Premier Soccer League (22 teams, listed alphabetically): AFC Ann Arbor (Mich.)*, Brooklyn Italians (N.Y.), CD Aguiluchos USA (Calif.), Dakota Fusion FC (N.D.), Detroit City FC (Mich.), Duluth FC (Minn.), Elm City Express (Conn.), Erie Commodores (Pa.), FC Arizona, FC Motown (N.J.) (formerly Clarkstown SC Eagles)*, FC Wichita (Kan.)*, Fort Worth Vaqueros (Texas), Inter Nashville FC (Tenn.), Jacksonville Armada (Fla.), Kingston Stockade FC (N.Y.), Kitsap Soccer Club (Wash.), Miami FC 2 (Fla.), Miami United FC (Fla.)*, Midland-Odessa FC (Texas), New Orleans Jesters (La.), New York Cosmos B (N.Y.), Orange County FC (Calif.)

(The NPSL is a nationwide league affiliated with the U.S. Adult Soccer Association and opted to use 2017 league results to determine its qualifiers for the 2018 Open Cup, not including the three NPSL teams controlled by North American Soccer League franchises who were granted a special invitation by U.S. Soccer’s Open Cup Committee to participate).

* Participated in 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup

This year's winning team will receive $300,000 (up from $250,000 last year), a berth in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League and have its name engraved on the historic Dewar Challenge Trophy, one of the oldest nationally contested trophies in American team sports. The runner-up will earn $100,000 (up from $60,000 last year), while the team that advances the furthest from each lower division will take home a $25,000 cash prize (up from $15,000 last year).

Sporting Kansas City is the defending U.S. Open Cup champion, having earned the club’s fourth tournament title thanks to a 2-1 victory against New York Red Bulls on Sept. 20, 2017, at a sold-out Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, recognized as U.S. Soccer's National Championship, is an annual competition open to all amateur and professional soccer teams affiliated with U.S. Soccer. The tournament has crowned a champion for 104 consecutive years dating from 1914. In 1999, the competition was renamed to honor American soccer pioneer Lamar Hunt.

ussoccer.com is the official website of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and will stream many games of the 2018 competition in addition to offering comprehensive video and written coverage of the tournament. You can follow the Open Cup on Twitter and Instagram @OpenCup and Facebook @OfficialOpenCup.

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U.S. Open Cup Apr 11, 2018
US Soccer

Then & Now: 20 Things to Know About the Open Cup

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has survived, uninterrupted, since 1914. And through those 104 years is woven the story, always changing and often bizarre, of soccer in America. A competition equal parts circus and showpiece, there’s a lot to love about this old tournament. Here’s a rundown of 20 fun facts from the good old days when there were laces on the ball to today, the 105th U.S. Open Cup that kicks off in earnest on May 8 and 9.

Oldest in the Cupboard
The first tournament was played in 1914, making it the oldest soccer cup competition in the United States. It’s also the country’s oldest annual tournament for team sports. Professional soccer came and went through the 20th century, but the Open Cup – at times known as the National Challenge Cup – crowned a champion for each of the last 104 years. Even through the want and woe of the Great Depression and the ravages of two World Wars, the U.S. Open Cup lived on. That’s one hardy Cup.


(Open Cup legends Bethlehem Steel before the first Open Cup Final)

Winners from 17 States
Clubs from 17 different States have hoisted the U.S. Open Cup. New York has the most titles with 26, followed by California’s 15 (most impressive considering the Golden State only joined the Open Cup party in 1951). Pennsylvania are third in the running with 14.

Santa Ana Winds & a Super Bowl Son
“Don’t leave a job half-done.” This was one piece of advice Santa Ana Winds striker Kramer Runager got from his late dad Max, a Super Bowl-winning punter for the San Francisco 49ers. The 27-year-old scorer is the beating heart of the amateur Open Cup debutantes from Orange County and, at the ripe age of 27, he says he’s playing the best soccer of his life. He regularly puts up crazy numbers for the Winds (he’s scored five goals in a game on more than one occasion), and he’s taking aim at a deep Cinderella run at #USOC2018. Throw into the mix his year of elite Navy training, a work ethic without rival and winning in his blood – and Runager’s one to watch this year.

Two (Maybe Three) with Five
Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles share the bragging rights for most titles with five Open Cups each. There’s a debate to be had over whether Fall River Marksmen also warrant inclusion in the Five-Time Club. They changed their name and home city to become the New Bedford Whalers in 1932 before winning that year’s title (which would be their fifth). This is sport after all, so feel free to debate.


(Benny Binshtock (left) of Maccabi LA with the Dewar Cup in a Winning Year)

A Day Better Not Remembered
Darren Sawatzky, who coached Seattle Sounders U-23 in the 2017 Open Cup, was on the wrong side the last time a Major League Soccer (MLS) team lost in the Open Cup Final. “I don’t remember a damn thing about,” he told ussoccer.com, after playing 90 minutes of his Colorado Rapids’ loss to Rochester Rhinos in the 1999 Final. He suffered a concussion early in the game and remembers not one thing of the day. Having since seen the game on video, he was surprised by how well he played -- considering.

Maccabi’s Star (of Stage and Screen)
Maccabi LA are, without question or debate, the only tournament champions to boast a starting fullback who starred on The Young and The Restless and once watched a Spanish Copa del Rey final from the VIP seats at the Estadio Bernabeu flanked Burt Reynolds, Jim Brown and Generalisimo Francisco Franco. Stage and screen actor Eric Braeden was known by his birth name, Hans Gudegast, when he won the Open Cup in 1973 over Cleveland Inter. The Daytime Emmy winner scored a penalty on that day he calls “one of the great moments in my life.” 

The Return of Christos
Christos FC are headquartered out of a discount liquor store on the outskirts of Baltimore. They don’t train but they make up for it with tons of skill, much swagger and a brimming local pride.  Led by captain Peter Caringi III, the tireless work of Daniel Baxter in midfield and the amazing athleticism of goalkeeper Phil Saunders between the pipes, Christos were the darlings of #USOC2017. They beat USL pro side Richmond Kickers and earned a date with local top flighters D.C. United in the Fourth Round. In the end they lost 4-1, but Mamadou Kansaye’s free-kick in the 23rd minute sent the Maryland SoccerPlex into orbit. The beer-soaked celebrations shared between players, family, friends and fans will go down in the legend and lore of the U.S. Open Cup. And, oh yeah, they’re back for #USOC2018, so watch out!


(Daniel Baxter of Baltimore-based Christos FC against MLS side DC United in Last Year's Open Cup Fourth Round)

Placekicker for a Year
Big Ronnie Simmons, from Trinidad and Tobago, won the Open Cup in 1987 with Club España of Washington, D.C. He also played one season as place-kicker for the Howard University Bison football team during his collegiate years. “I had to learn on the job and the first time I kicked an American football, it went ten feet and I thought the other players were going to kill me,” joked the former Baltimore Blast defender, now a housing inspector for the City of Baltimore. 

Rough Pitches of Old Gotham
1965 champions New York Ukrainians played on a pitch in Queens that was so beat-up, their star midfielder Walter Schmotolocha said it was “like running an obstacle course!” When they got to Chicago for the second leg of the ‘65 Final, it sure did make a difference. The New Yorkers won out 4-1. “We slaughtered them on that nice field, which was new and fresh with cut grass,” said Schmotolocha, now 77 and a proud granddad, from his home in the sleepy Hudson River Valley.

Lost in London; Found in Yonkers
When he was captain of an Arsenal youth team that included future global superstar Cesc Fabregas, Sean Kelly had one plan only: Play professional football. The talented defender was on a one-way road to one of the game’s biggest stages. But injuries cruelly struck and the road fell out from under him. He returned to his native Ireland and admits, “I lost my way.” But he’s found redemption in faraway Yonkers, New York. He’s 30 now, one of the best amateur players in the country, and a double amateur national champion with Cinderellas-in-the-making Lansdowne Bhoys. He works long hours in construction in New York City, trains twice a week and plays on Sundays because he “just loves it.” The 2018 Open Cup represents another taste at the big time for Kelly and his Bhoys.


(Sean Kelly, now of Lansdowne Bhoys, Captained an Arsenal Youth Team with Some Future World Stars in it)

1923 and the Baseball Controversy
Only once in the long history of the U.S. Open Cup has a champion not been established on the pitch. That was in 1923, when FC Paterson became the first team from New Jersey to win the title. Scullin Steel of St. Louis were unable to field a side for a replay after the initial final finished tangled at 2-2. In what might be the most American of soccer problems, Scullin claimed they couldn’t play again because many of the young men in their side were making preparations for the upcoming professional baseball season.  

What’s in a Name?
The competition was known as the National Challenge Cup from 1914 to 1999, when it was renamed and dedicated to MLS owner and American soccer pioneer Lamar Hunt. From then on it became the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. In 2016, FC Dallas, who are owned and operated by Hunt’s sons Clark and Dan, gave the trophy a homecoming of sorts when they defeated New England Revolution 4-2 in the tournament final played at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

American Soccer’s Babe Ruth
Few in Open Cup history have shone as bright as the mustachioed and lethally left-footed Billy Gonsalves, who won a record eight titles with four different teams. In 1931, Glasgow Celtic manager Willie Maley said, without hesitation: “This Gonsalves is the greatest player I’ve ever seen.” Sometimes called the Babe Ruth of American Soccer, this son of Portuguese immigrants and the seventh of nine children lined up for the U.S. Men’s National Team in both the 1930 and 1934 FIFA World Cups.  


(The Legendary Billy Gonsalves Representing the USA at the 1930 World Cup)

Red Force and River Plate
Gabriel Vega is head coach and founder of Miami amateurs Red Force FC. His passion for River Plate – the super-club from his native Argentina – is so intense he nearly duplicated their logo for his team to wear on their shirts. “I was careful not to make it too close,” he said, fearing attention from the copyright cops.

One of the Best Never to Win
Willie Roy is a legend of American Soccer. Born in Germany, he lined up for the U.S. National Team for nearly a decade straddling the 1960s and 70s. He is a member of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame and coached the Chicago Sting to great effect in the old NASL. But even with a list of credentials as long as your arm, he failed to win an Open Cup during his time with Hansa, Chicago-based giants of the post-war years. He did manage to reach a Final, however, scoring in both legs in a losing effort in 1965.

Rhino’s Charge in MLS Era
Since the inception of Major League Soccer in 1996, teams from the country’s top flight have dominated the Open Cup. Only once since has a team from below the summit of the U.S. soccer pyramid won the competition, when the Rochester Rhinos beat four MLS teams to claim the crown in 1999. The Charleston Battery also reached the Final in 2008, but fell 2-1 to D.C. United. With four titles each, Chicago Fire, Seattle Sounders FC and Sporting Kansas City lead the pack of MLS clubs, followed by D.C. United (3), FC Dallas and LA Galaxy (2 each) and Columbus Crew SC and New England Revolution (1 each).


(The Rochester Rhinos of 1999 Were the Last Non-MLS Team to Win an Open Cup)

Old NASL Avoid Open Cup
The glitz-and-glamor sides of the old NASL of the 1970s and 80s refused to play in the Open Cup. Most assumed the global stars of the New York Cosmos and LA Aztecs (Pele, George Best and co) considered the rough-and-tumble of the Cup beneath them. But Dr. Joe Machnik – a pioneer of the American game and an Open Cup champion in his own right – has other ideas. “They were afraid of losing. And they didn’t want to play on or bad fields! I’m sure of it.

The Hard Life of a Trophy
The 62 winners of the U.S. Open Cup all have their names etched on the base of the Sir Thomas Dewar Cup. The trophy was donated by whiskey magnate and soccer promoter Sir Thomas Dewar in 1912. The original trophy was retired in 1979 due to the damage sustained over a long life of being grasped by grateful hands. But the Dewar Cup came back out of retirement for a brief revival in 1997 and was last awarded to the Chicago Fire when they won the 2006 tournament. 

Home and Away: The Ethnic Leagues
Ethnic teams have played a huge role in the romance of the Open Cup. Among the list of Open Cup winners are: Brooklyn St. Mary’s Celtic, Brooklyn Hispano, New York German-Hungarians, SC Eintracht, Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals, New York Hungaria, New York Ukrainians, New York Greek-American, New York Hota, Los Angeles Maccabi, New York Pancyprian-Freedoms, Brooklyn Italians, DC’s Club España and San Francisco Greek-American.  


(A Spirited Pre-Game Warm-up from Open Cup Regulars the LA Scots)

MLSers on the Brink of History
Reigning champs Sporting Kansas City, Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders are on the cusp of equaling the record of most wins in Open Cup history. Another title for one of these four-time champions would bring them level with Bethlehem Steel (possibly Fall River Marksmen) and Maccabi Los Angeles. Philadelphia Ukrainians and New York Greek Americans, the other four-time champs, are not among the 94 participating teams in 2018.

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U.S. Open Cup Apr 9, 2018
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