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.
- NEWS: First Round Pairings for #USOC2018
- READ: Long Road Home - 104 Years of U.S. Open Cup
- READ: #USOC2018 - Round-by-Round Breakdown
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)
- WATCH/READ: The Christos FC Brotherhood
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.