Just over two weeks before the 108th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, the road to the 109th will begin. A slate of 21 games across the country will kick off the 2024 Open Cup over the weekend of September 9-10 before either Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami CF or Houston Dynamo raise the historic trophy later this month.
The country, and now much of the world, will be focused on Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, September 27 for the 2023 Open Cup Final. That game at DRV PNK Stadium is 18 miles, less than a thirty-minute drive, from the site of one of the first 2024 Open Cup Qualifying Round matches.
Many of the amateur teams in action will harbor dreams of going on a Cinderella run in the 2024 competition – and earning the chance to play against one of MLS’ elite clubs. That road starts this weekend in public parks and high school fields with bleacher seats.
Saturday, Sept. 9 - Sunday, Sept. 10 First Qualifying Round
Saturday, Sept. 30 - Sunday, Oct. 1 Second Qualifying Round
Saturday, Oct. 21 - Sunday, Oct. 22 Third Qualifying Round
Saturday, Nov. 18 - Sunday, Nov. 19 Fourth Qualifying Round
Tuesday, March 19 - Thursday, March 21 First Round
Tuesday, April 2 - Wednesday, April 3 Second Round
Tuesday, April 16 - Wednesday, April 17 Third Round
Tuesday, May 7 - Wednesday, May 8 Round of 32
Tuesday, May 21 - Wednesday, May 22 Round of 16
Tuesday, July 9-Wednesday, July 10 Quarterfinal
Tuesday, Aug. 20-Wednesday, Aug. 21 Semifinal
Wednesday, Sept. 25 Final
Soccer & Family Mesh In the West
The Pacific Northwest has three clubs in qualifying including one returning from last year. Bellevue Athletic FC, based in the Washington city just across the water from Seattle, is a family-run team. Sporting Director Anastacio ‘Stas’ Rivera started the club with his parents, Laura and Jose, by his side. The young group, who are entering a fourth season in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), want to expand the amateur soccer footprint in the region.
Earlier this year, National Premier Soccer League side Crossfire Redmond had one of the games of the 2023 tournament against defending finalist Sacramento Republic FC. Likewise, Ballard FC won the 2023 USL League Two national title earlier this summer. However, Rivera insists the area’s teams outside of those leagues have just as much to offer.
“We want to help change the stigma of the Pacific Northwest being a barren wasteland [for amateur soccer],” said Rivera. “I was immensely surprised there's so many teams and nobody willing to go and take the hit to go [into qualifying]. But it was better for us on the marketing side of things.”
Their opponent is a familiar face from UPSL league play. Holac FC from Seattle were founded in 2018 and joined the national ranks for the Spring 2022 season. Described as “the first Somali semi-professional soccer team in the United States,” the squad from South King County are making their first run into Open Cup qualifying.
In a way, it's exactly the type of team Rivera wants to see competing. The winner moves on to face another Washington state side, Sharktopus Football Club, in the Second Qualifying Round.
Two teams from the San Francisco Soccer Football League, the oldest American soccer league in continuous existence, kick off the 2024 tournament. International San Francisco are trying to make it back after qualifying for the Open Cup Proper last year. They host the historic San Francisco Vikings Soccer Club at Beach Chalet Soccer Field. Not only will Inter know the Viking’s from the SFSFL’s Premier Division – but also from history books. Founded in 1922, the club’s history includes multiple greats like U.S. Olympic team players Gus Donoghue and Victor Ottoboni.
The defending SFSFL champion Olympic Club are also in action against Marin County Union SC. Olympic qualified for a first Open Cup back in 2020 but never had the chance to make their debut. Capo FC, also known as Capistrano FC, are back after qualifying for 2023 as well. The team made waves by beating then-defending USL League Two champion Ventura County Fusion in the First Round.They’ll visit Laguna United FC from the UPSL on Saturday.
The rest of the west includes qualifying regulars Real San Jose visiting Valley 559 FC. BattleBorn FC, the lone Nevada team in the Qualifying Rounds, host Cali side FC Folsom. JASA RWC and Bay Area United FC, two NISA Nation teams from California, face off while an Irvine derby pits Irvine Zeta FC against Irvine FC. Finally, UC Davis Club Soccer host Elk Grove Blues.
Rivals Clash High in the Rockies
It wouldn’t be the Open Cup without Harpos FC or Colorado Rovers from The Centennial State. The two teams are one of four that have never missed out on the Qualifying Rounds since 2015/16. Harpos competed in two Open Cups (2015 & 2016) and reached the Second Round both times. They’ll try to make it three tournaments after their last trip was canceled due to COVID in 2020.
They face Colorado Premier League rivals Colorado Rovers, who are attempting to reach the Open Cup for the first time since 2014. Since U.S. Soccer took over qualifying ahead of the 2016 tournament, Harpos and Rovers have met three times. All three games ended with Harpos advancing, including a 4-0 win in the 2020 Third Round.
Two other Colorado teams are in the First Qualifying Round fray. Fellow CPL side and Qualifying regulars Azteca FC take on Peak Eleven Football Club from the Mountain Premier League. Azteca, based out of Denver, qualified for the 2022 Tournament Proper but fell to NPSL outfit Tulsa Athletic in the First Round Proper.
Central Texas Lobos are back in Qualifying for the first time since 2020’s cursed competition. After finishing runner-up in the Gulf Coast Premier League championship the team visits Alamo City Soccer Club of the UPSL on Saturday evening.
Fearsome Foursome From Florida
Only four teams from Florida will be competing in the First Qualifying Round. The winners will join the 14 other entrants in the next round between September 30 and October 1.
Of the four, Miami Soccer Academy might be the largest outfit to contend with. The academy, entering a third straight Open Cup qualifying tournament, have two alumni who played professionally in the United States. Frank López and Daniel Luis Sáez both joined the team after defecting from Cuba and signed contracts with Rio Grande Valley FC of the USL Championship.
Their opponent is Dade County FC from the United Premier Soccer League. Founded in 2021, the young side host MSA at the UPSL Stadium (Broward College‐South Campus) in Pembroke Pines. The Dade club live in hope that 2023 can finish on yet another high note. In July, their women’s team won the UPSL Spring 2023 Florida State Championship.
Hurricane FC has the most qualifying experience of the group, having competed in the last six installments. They’ll host O’Shea’s FC of the United States Soccer League in their first match.
Old and New Battle in the Big Apple
The northeast is always a place where teams with historical lineages battle up-and-coming squads. This year is no different, especially around the city that never sleeps; New York, New York.
New York Greek Americans SC, formerly and possibly better known as Greek American Atlas Astoria (AA), are one of the greatest teams to ever compete in the U.S. Open Cup’s 110-year history.
The Greeks four titles (1967, 1968, 1969, 1974) tie them for the second most by a single team (tangled with three Major League Soccer clubs). They face league rival Zum Schneider FC 03 on Sunday. Despite being a German heritage club, founded out of a now-closed East Village beer hall, Zum’s more multi-cultural background has been on display lately. Since the Eastern Premier Soccer League was founded in 2020 the group has made the league playoffs every season.
It’s reasons like this why head coach Alexander Berscheid took the leap to enter the Open Cup Qualifying Rounds for the first time as the club celebrates a twentieth birthday this year.
“We have been consistently playing at a very good level offering some of the more beautiful and tactical soccer in the [EPSL],” Berscheid said. “We fell short each year to be amongst the very best. This season we felt we were ready to test that and wanted to throw our hat in the race.”
Another former Open Cup champion and EPSL member will be in action on Sunday night. Three-time National Challenge Cup winner (1980, 1982, 1983) New York Pancyprian-Freedoms are back hosting at St. John’s University. They’ve competed in qualifying every year since 2015.
Lansdowne Yonkers FC are hoping to qualify for a third straight tournament via Open Division Qualifying. Led by new head coach Matthew Kane, the team from just north of NYC reached the Second Round for a second straight year in 2022.
The team Lansdowne beat first in that 2022 run was Manhattan Kickers FC. The Cosmopolitan Soccer League side are back for a second time looking to improve after their early exit. Head coach and player Bryan Baracaldo explained that his group are diverse in both origin and experience levels. That includes midfielder Toric Robinson, whose resume includes USL stops in both amateur and professional leagues.
“We are from all corners of the world, with one true love; playing football,” Baracaldo said. “We have guys from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Venezuela, Jamaica, Nigeria, Colombia, New Jersey, Miami, Georgia and some local New Yorkers – and with a lot of passion for the game all around.”
On the other hand, the three United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) teams competing in NYC all played their first seasons in 2022. Olé Football Club (Ansonia, CT) will travel to just north of the city for their first taste of the Open Cup since starting a senior men’s team in Fall 2022.
NY Braveheart SC (Central Islip, NY) were founded last year and joined UPSL in the fall season as well. Finally, NY Renegades FC (Hicksville, NY) made the jump to UPSL play last year after finding success in the local Long Island circuit.
Despite its modest size, the District of Columbia has three teams competing (more than nine other states), but only two are active this weekend. D.C. Football Club, the only squad from the DC Premier League to take part, host Maryland side MoCo 1776 FC in the shadow of RFK stadium.
Three time Open Cup qualifiers and defending American Premier League champs Aegean Hawks visit VA Revolution Pro in Leesburg, Virginia.
The northeast action rounds out with an all EPSL match-up once again. Philadelphia Heritage SC, winners of last season’s EPSL Delaware River Conference regular season title, host Kensington Soccer Club in Conshohocken, PA.
Michael Battista is an award-winning journalist and regular contributor to TheCup.us, Hudson River Blue, & New York Sports Nation. Follow him at @MichaelBattista on Twitter.