The Dream Begins Anew: #USOC2023 First Round Preview

American soccer’s oldest and most venerable tournament returns for its 108th edition between March 21-23 with 14 First Round games featuring 28 of our favorite amateur and semi-pro dreamers.
By: Jonah Fontela

The underdogs are in the starting blocks.

And while it’s cosmically unlikely that any of the 28 amateur or semi-pro teams that begin the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the First Round will be alive come September 27’s Final, they’re here. And they’ve got plenty to prove.

A promised contest against a professional club in the Second Round in early April offers powerful additional motivation for – as if any is needed – for these dream-chasers.

The tournament curtain-raiser is a standalone contest on March 21 in Pennsylvania, where West Chester United SC, led by the legendary Blaise Santangelo, take on the Ocean City Nor’easters – renowned giant -killers since making their Open Cup debut, as the South Jersey Barons, back in 2002.

West Chester (black) are among the top amateur sides in the country

“The Open Cup is an opportunity to challenge yourself against the best,” said West Chester’s 29-year-old player Jimmy MacLaughlin, who, during his pro career, reached the Open Cup Semis with FC Cincinnati (in 2017, prior to the club joining Major League Soccer). “I just want to see what we can do, win a couple games, play against a pro team and get that adrenaline rush a little bit again.”

Tuesday’s tournament opener – and five other First Round games – will be streamed LIVE on the Bleacher Report App and B/R Football’s YouTube Channel, so be sure to tune in. 

The second day of First Round play is action-packed, with 10 games on the docket.

Out west are a pair of contests in the Bay Area, including a mouth-watering affair between El Farolito of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and International San Francisco of the historic (and hugely competitive) San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL).

New & Old Meet by the Bay

El Farolito, founded in 1985 and winners of the Open Cup in 1993 under the name of Club Deportivo Mexico, are steeped in deep history. Inter, on the other hand, only took their first baby steps as a club less than two years ago under the guidance of founder and former player Dr. Amir Darabi.

Young club International San Francisco stormed through the Local Qualifiers in style.

But that relative youth hasn’t dampened Inter’s ambitions – or their production on the pitch. The team boasts a handful of ex pros, including one-time Chicago Fire forward and Open Cup Semifinalist Matt Fondy and they stormed through the arduous Local Qualifying campaign outscoring their opponents 19 to 1 through four games. 

The other game by the Bay will be played later on Wednesday at the very same venue as the El Farolito-Inter matinee – as that game’s original venue of Boxer Stadium is in danger of being unplayable with forecasts of heavy weather in the area. The later game offers tournament debutants Project 510, of USL League Two team and reserve side of USL Championship outfit Oakland Roots, against Seattle-area Crossfire Premier out of the NPSL.

The inimitable Peter Wilt – four-time Open Cup-winning executive with Chicago Fire and staunch advocate for an open system in American soccer – makes a return to the tournament he loves best.

This time, Wilt’s with Chicago House AC. He founded the club in 2020 with professional ambitions before landing in the amateur Midwest Premier League after Covid took a toll on his well-laid plans.

Chicago House AC – the newest passion project of Peter Wilt

“It’s the greatest soccer tournament in the country – maybe in the world,” Wilt said of the Open Cup ahead of a showdown with midwestern rivals Bavarian United SC of Milwaukee – a team with nearly a century of history that includes reaching an Open Cup Final back in 1994. “Crazy stuff always happens.”

One of the most exciting debutants of the 2023 field are Appalachian FC out of Boone, North Carolina. With sasquatch-forward branding and hordes of fans coming out in droves to the Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex, they’ll host neighbors NC Fusion U23.

Perhaps the Fusion can’t stand with App FC in the marketing fight, but they did, it’s worth noting, knock out professional opposition in USL’s Charlotte Independence during last year’s Open Cup.

“It’s just a massive carrot that’s being dangled in front of us,” said Appalachian FC coach Dale Parker. “The motivation is you’re getting an opportunity to bring an MLS team, at some point, to your home town. To the community that’s been coming out to your games for two years now.

“If that doesn’t get you excited you shouldn’t be playing,” the coach added.

Farther north, in the always competitive New York City metro area, NPSL’s reigning national champion FC Motown travel to the Bronx to take on Manhattan SC of USL League Two.

Motown, out of Morristown, New Jersey are regulars at the Open Cup, and they took home the prize as the amateur team who reached farthest in last year’s edition. The club also made waves recently by sending two Haitian-born players (Maudwindo Germain and Samuel Pompée) to help complete short-handed Violette AC’s CONCACAF Champions League upset of Austin FC over two legs..

Beaman United FC might not be a known name nationwide, but the young club – founded by Nigeria-born Gift Ndam and with former NYC FC midfielder and Ghana international Kwadwo Poku in the squad – are sure fun to watch.

They scored 11 goals and conceded eight in their three Local Qualifying games.

Beaman United FC of Nashville had an eventful Qualifying process

“The way we play, sure it comes with risk,” Poku, who reached an Open Cup Quarterfinal in 2017 with Miami FC, said about the flair and cheek of Beaman’s approach. “We have to score a lot of goals to win games. It’s pretty expansive, but you have to make it fun for the kids!”

They might not have things all their own way at their homebase in Murfreesboro, near Nashville, as Des Moines Menace will arrive (from a long way away) with hopes of keeping their proud tradition in the Open Cup alive.

Rounding out the Wednesday fixtures, Club de Lyon’s Open Division side host Nona FC in Kissimmee, Florida. It’s one of two games in the First Round from the Sunshine State.

Lansdowne Yonkers won no fewer than nine trophies in 2020 and 2021

Tulsa Athletic – regular faces in our tournament – open their doors to USL League Two’s Brazos Valley Cavalry in Oklahoma. Elsewhere, UDA Soccer – the first college-affiliated team from the Open Division to reach the Cup in its modern-era (since 1995) – face off at home in Las Cruces against returning participants Park City Red Wolves of USL League Two.

There’s also an all-California clash between Ventura County Fusion and Capo FC – the Open Cup first-timers who’ve built a proud club from the ground up in San Juan, Capistrano.

Trio Close out First Round

Thursday, March 23’s three games will close out the First Round.

Cleveland SC of the NPSL are back for their second-straight Open Cup, and they’ll host Lionsbridge FC of USL League 2 while Jacksonville Armada of the NPSL host fellow Floridians Miami United FC.

The round ends with an exciting contest, LIVE on B/R, with NPSL’s Hartford City FC taking on 2021 national amateur cup champions Lansdowne Yonkers FC – one of the top amateur teams in the country – in Connecticut’s capital.

“I think we’ve got a deeper squad this year than last,” said Lansdowne’s striker and youth director Shamir Mullings, who was a part of the side that reached the Second Round of last year’s Open Cup. “We want to see how far we can go and maybe take on an MLS team.”

Nothing is yet known, of course, but all is possible – and therein lies the beauty of the Open Cup. Be sure to tune in via the Bleacher Report App and B/R Football’s YouTube Channel to follow the action as 28 amateur and semi-pro dreamers look to come steaming out of the blocks.

Fontela is editor-in-chief of Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.