The Great Eight Rd. 1: Cancelled Flights, Fading Lights & Last Goodbyes

The latest in's Great Eight sries, we talk a closer look at the magic moments of the 2019 U.S Open Cup's First Round in which 60 goals were scored, flights were missed, head games were played and we said goodbye to a legend the American game.
By: Jonah Fontela

Fans of the 106-year-old Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup live by its magic moments. And the First Round of the 2019 competition tossed up a good few of those on May 7 and 8. Join for a look back at eight moments of note from the 19 games, in which 60 goals were scored, flights were missed, head games were played and a legend of the American game was honored on the field and off.

No Substitute for Desire
A lot is made about opportunity in the Open Cup. It’s a watchword for this competition, open to all and ready to welcome. And desire, that’s important too. In California, near Turlock, a low ball came in from the right. It was behind Leonardo Fredes, who had to figure out how to put a shot on goal. The El Farolito striker let his defender and the ball slip past, lifted it with the outside of his right foot and chipped an overhead volley, while falling backward and spinning, into the far corner. The mechanics, the physics of it, defy description. He landed badly, broke his arm, and was forced to leave the game. His wide smile after the final whistle, right arm set in a cast, seemed to say: I’d do it all over again.

Over in Richmond, Va., one player’s desire resulted in a similar pain-for-goals trade. Not happy with three goals and the first hat-trick of the 2019 Open Cup, Charles Boateng raced on to a ball down the right with 15 minutes left. He cut inside and scored one more, taking a stray elbow in the head for his troubles. He was helped to the bench and hugged by his coach David Bulow, the last Richmond Kicker before him to score four goals in an Open Cup game.

Flight Cancelled? Get in the Van
This is the First Round of the Open Cup. Most players are 9-to-5 guys. They carry their own bags, work day-jobs and wash their own jerseys. And when they have a long way to go and flights get cancelled, the team owner doesn’t gas up the private jet. NTX Rayados know about hardship. A lot of them came up in Dallas’s tougher neighborhoods. When their flight to Little Rock got cancelled, they shrugged and piled into a van. They drove themselves. Five hours in driving wind and rain. When they picked up a flat on Interstate 30 going east, they changed it and drove on again. It was a miracle they got to the field on time and, within seven minutes, they were a goal up on the Little Rock Rangers.

(NTX Rayados know how to win in Open Cup - long drive or no)

Four minutes into stoppage time, they were a man down and a goal down – rescued only by an equalizer in the last seconds of regulation. After a penalty shootout, they were the winners. Let it be a lesson, the Rayados are not dead until they’re in the ground.

That’s to take nothing away from FC Denver, a club founded via a craigslist ad and as pleasant a bunch of fellows as you’re likely to meet. Weather saw their flight to Midland, Texas cancelled. So, they thought on their feet. They booked new flights to El Paso and then drove four hours through the vast and unending expanse of Texas to get to Midland-Odessa in time to beat the Sockers.

One Mistake, One Moment
It can all boil down to one moment. A goal. A miss. A red card. One moment can define a game. And in the Open Cup, where it’s win or go home every time and there’s no tomorrow to make amends, those moments can be that much crueler. Brenton Griffiths, of NPSL pro side Miami FC, panicked. He put one foot wrong. He rushed his clearance and the ball went right off the shin of William Stamatis and into his own goal. It was a gift, plain and simple. And it was just what the all-amateur Florida Soccer Soldiers needed. Suddenly it was 1-1, all in the balance again. A whole new ball game. The Soldiers never looked back. They didn’t rattle. When Daniel Meneses missed his penalty that would have made it 2-1 with 20 minutes to go, he shrugged it off and scored the winner – an extravagant volley – in the 87th minute. Another moment. A game-definer. There were big names in that Miami FC team, but no one could change the outcome – not former Red Bulls and D.C. United man Lloyd Sam or the raft of other seasoned pros. The Soldiers never went away, and Miami FC melted like sugar in a hard Florida rain. 

Open Cup Head Game
Sometimes force of will can tip the scales. A little personality and cheek can go a long way. Out in Iowa, visitors Duluth FC looked to have the edge going into penalties against hosts Des Moines Menace. Italy-born Duluth goalkeeper Alberto Ciroi was a sensation on the day and looked likely to have a say in the shootout. Instead it was the man between the Menace’s posts – one Jordan Bell, assistant coach at Young Harris College – who turned the tables. He shuffled up and down the goal line. He waved his arms like a mad man to distract the Duluth shooters. He got in everyone’s head. When he was whistled for jumping off his line early to save Liam Condone’s kick, he went the same way on the retake and made the same save. Bell pointed to his temple after that one in a telling gesture. Duluth collapsed, missing three of their four kicks, while Bell grew big as an elephant. There was just no way around him.

Light on the Horizon
Floodlights and sunsets could be Open Cup mascots. All games are midweek, in the evenings, with the light of day dying behind stadium walls and distant ridges. When Charles Boateng raced toward goal at City Stadium to score his third of four, the sun was just about below the west wall of the old ground, home to American soccer’s oldest pro team and 1995 Open Cup champs, the Richmond Kickers. The whole stadium winked with the gold of that magic hour. Thousands of miles away, and hours later on that first night of the 106th Open Cup, it all went dark around the half-hour mark, where Cal FC were on their way to demolishing the visitors from faraway Oregon. The timer went haywire on the floodlights. Amid joking shouts of “replay” from the visitors, knowing they were in for a bad beating on the day, the same sun that bathed the City Stadium back east, set gently over Pacific Ocean west of Irvine. The players drank water and waited in the dark, watching the epic purple and red of a classic California sunset.

(Cal FC were rampant in their First Rounder in Irvine - after the lights came back on. Photo by Victor Friedman)

Legend Honored in Wisconsin
The passing of U.S. international and Wisconsin soccer hero Jimmy Banks hit the American game hard just days before an all-Wisconsin Open Cup First Rounder between Milwaukee’s Bavarians SC and Forward Madison. There was a moment of silence for the former Bavarians player and 1990 World Cup veteran. There were banners in the stands. “He was an incredible player,” said Bavarians coach and former teammate at the club Tom Zaiss. “But he was just the best person, the best friend.” No one who ever knew him, had a bad word to say about Jimmy Banks. So, it was fitting that his son, J.C. Banks, who now plays for pro side Forward Madison, assisted on the first goal. It was part solemn memorial and part celebration of a great man who will be missed.

Cosmos Reckon with History
The name New York Cosmos is one of the most famous in American Soccer – hell, in world soccer. Today’s is a humbler version of the club than the one that poached the world’s top stars in the late 70s and early 80s and filled Giants Stadium to capacity with newly minted soccer fans week after week. But today’s Cosmos are in with a shout at the Open Cup – same as everyone else. They’re here, led by their captain Danny Szetela, and their Opening Day win has them dreaming big.  The Cosmos of old, of Pele and Carlos Alberto, Johan Neeskens and Giorgio Chinaglia, never won an Open Cup. They never even tried. They declined. The old North American Soccer League (NASL) turned its nose up to the Open Cup. They were too big back then some might say, when the Cup was a largely amateur affair. Others, veterans of those old rough-and-tumble Cups, have different ideas. “They were scared,” said Dr. Joe Machnik, soccer pioneer and winner of the 1965 Open Cup with New York Ukrainians. “They were scared they’d lose!” So, three-cheers to the new Cosmos for entering the fray.

(The new Cosmos are trying for something the old Cosmos never won - the Open Cup. Photo by Matthew Levine)

A Fond Farewell
In among the upsets and the dreams, we’d be wrong not to spare a thought for those clubs who took their leave. With every rise, a fall – this is the Open Cup after all. There’s no winner without a loser. No draws here. Nothing to share. Virginia United were out to prove the Hispanic Leagues in America are loaded with talent – and they did just that. Despite losing 6-2 to the Kickers, the two goals they scored on the day were best of the eight. Oh, you Milwaukee Bavarians, National Amateur champs, we’ll miss you and your stadium, your beer hall and your “professionally amateur” spirit. Black Rock FC, from the prep schools and colleges of New England, you showed your mettle. And for Philadelphia Lone Star, off the gritty streets of Southwest Philly, it was hard luck again. And we salute you all.