Open Cup Connections: Fortunes & Histories Flirt in the Last Four

There’s only one previous champion still alive in our Last Four – but August 23rd’s two decisive Semifinals offer up a raft of past connections and future possibilities to ponder.
By: Jonah Fontela

And then there were Four.

Among those, only one – the 2018 champions Houston Dynamo – have laid hands on the U.S. Open Cup trophy before. The rest of the field (FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami CF and Real Salt Lake – all from Major League Soccer) are chasing a first dance with the American game’s most historic prize.

That’s not to say, however, that the trio don’t have their own special connections to the Open Cup. So do join us for a closer look at the Last Four survivors – and how they’ve brushed with Cup glory in the past

FC Cincinnati’s Semi Redux

Before they were all-conquering, eastern conference monsters of the top-flight MLS, FC Cincinnati were a scrappy up-and-coming club in the second-division USL Championship. Founded in 2015, they put together a Cup run for the ages in 2017 when they beat MLS sides (and previous Open Cup winners) the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire.

Then they led a Jesse Marsch-coached New York Red Bulls 2-0 with 15 minutes to go in a Cinderella Semifinal at their old home of Nippert Stadium.

Star power, eventually, had its say as Bradley Wright-Phillips scored twice in a come-from-behind extra-time win for the MLS side. It’s an agony that still informs fans of FC Cincinnati – now with stars of their own in the form of Lucho Acosta, Brandon Vazquez and Matt Miazga.

Led by head coach Pat Noonan – a three-time Open Cup-winning player with the New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders – the Ohioans are among the favorites to win the whole shebang.

Huge crowds and even bigger expectations are defining FC Cincy’s 2023

FC Cincinnati host last-placed MLS club (but one arming up with the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets) Inter Miami at their brand-new TQL Stadium in the Semis. Booking a place in this year’s Final would come as a relief to all associated with the club, perhaps especially Austin Berry – now of the athletic training staff, but a veteran midfielder of that 2017 Cinderella run.

Miami Messi Hoopla and Fusion History

All of the attention is currently aimed at the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale in Southern Florida.

It’s hard to ignore the recent superpower signings that threaten to change the entire ecosystem of MLS and American Soccer. But an uncomfortable reality still does exist: despite being at the center of a Lionel Messi-inspired media circus – Inter Miami are currently bottom of MLS’ eastern conference – a full 28 points behind Semifinal opponents FC Cincinnati.

This year’s Semifinal Round is the farthest Inter Miami, founded in 2018, have ever climbed in the U.S. Open Cup – a tournament with roots going all the way back to 1914.

That’s not to say that Miami/Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have Open Cup history. They do, you know. The previous attempt at an MLS club in the area, the now-defunct Miami Fusion, reached the Final in 2000.

They were led then by head coach, local legend and broadcasting phenomenon Ray Hudson. 

He described that year’s team as his “happy pirate ship” and it included the likes of goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Pablo Mastroeni – both future standouts with the USMNT.

Real Salt Lake’s Night to Forget

So that moves us, logically, over to Real Salt Lake – where Mastroeni is now the head coach and leading an RSL team he says “made a major priority of the Open Cup” this year.

Most fans of the Rocky Mountain club will likely want to forget their previous reach for the Open Cup’s highest shelf. In 2013, playing some fabulous soccer under then coach Jason Kreis, they were tipped to pull off the rarest of MLS and Open Cup trophy doubles. But things went horribly wrong in the Final.

RSL broke an Open Cup single-game Quarterfinal attendance record in their win over LA Galaxy

“It turned into a very, very bad night for us,” remembered goalkeeper Rimando – still at the club to this day as a member of the academy coaching staff. “It’s not one of things I like to think about too much.”

Despite being among MLS’ top teams that year, and playing at home, RSL lost out 0-1 to a poor D.C. United side that finished the MLS season with just three wins from 34 games and dead-last in the league.

Ben Olsen Back to inspire Houston

The D.C. United coach that day was a young Ben Olsen – Open Cup winner in 2008 as a player with that same capital club. And he’s back again and leading Houston Dynamo, who’ll host Real Salt Lake in their  Semifinal on August 23rd.

“That Open Cup trophy [from 2013] definitely saved my job,” Olsen told “I’m romantic about the tournament, and anyone will tell you trophies talk and it’s what we’re all in this for.”

A master motivator, Olsen has his Texas side moving in the right direction in league and Cup play after a rough start to 2023. And it’s his aim to get the Dynamo, who won a pair of back-to-back MLS titles in 2006 and 2007, back to winning ways in a larger sense.

“Winning helps. Each win matters – so does getting into the Last Eight or the Last Four and competing for Cups,” he said, eying a second Open Cup crown for the club in the space of five years. “We don’t have the luxury of not thinking every game is a chance to push this club forward.”

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