Only 44 teams remain from an original starting field of 109 in this Third Qualifying Round of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It’s at this stage when the competition historically heats up and the distances away teams travel increases in a big way.
The stakes are high, with a place in the Fourth and Final Round on the line and the finish line in sight for all the teams in action in the 22 games on October 21 and 22.
There are five clubs trying to reach the Tournament Proper for a second consecutive year.
Chicago House AC of the Midwest Premier League, who made their Open Cup debut last year under the stewardship of four-time tournament winner and club president Peter Wilt, face a Windy City derby when they take on Edgewater Castle Football Club at Taft High School in the city’s Northwest.
It’s a familiar contest for the two sides who both play in the Midwest Premier League.
Northern California’s International San Francisco – who reached their first Open Cup last year via these same Qualifying Rounds – have to travel nearly 1000 miles farther north to take on this year’s debutant darlings Sharktopus FC of Seattle for a complicated 10am kick-off on Saturday.
The fun-named Washington State side will look to take full advantage of the situation on the ground.
“The attention we're getting right now means so much to keeping our dream alive, and our post Open Cup dream alive,” said Sharktopus manager Leo Ohannesian, who’s not short of optimism. “We'll win the whole thing. I'll tell you that right now. You heard it here first.”
- READ: Bonding & Growing Under the Banner of Sharktopus FC
- READ: International SF – The Bay State’s Soccer Start-Up
The remaining teams looking to move through to the Fourth and Final Round – and a second-straight Tournament Proper beyond that – are regular participants Miami United FC, Tennessee Tempo FC, who’ve changed their name from Beaman United, and UDA Soccer – a club side affiliated with New Mexico State University who’ll move through to the Final Round following a late forfeit by their scheduled Third Round opponent Sporting Arizona FC.
History Makers: Movers & Shakers
You might be surprised to learn that there are several former Open Cup-winning teams in the mix in these 44 Third Qualifying Round games. But ours is a tournament full of surprises.
Much has changed since the 1960s, when the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals were the best team in America and scooped four Open Cup titles. But the spirit of those old champions lives on in the Horsham, PA-based club’s first team who’ve won twice to reach this stage – and now face off with visitors New Jersey Alliance FC from Lyndhurst.
The NY Pancyprian Freedoms, who won the tournament in 1980, 1982 and 1983, are coming off a stunning win in the Second Round when, playing a man down due to a red card, the Queens-based former champions knocked out two-time national amateur champs and NYC-area giants Lansdowne Yonkers FC.
The Pancyprians’ reward is a Third-Round date with NY Renegades FC of Hicksville at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens.
While they were never crowned Open Cup champions, two Pennsylvania teams with significant history will battle it out this weekend. Vereinigung Erzgebirge – founded in 1931 and who reached the Tournament Proper in 2002 – host 1977 runners-up United German Hungarians.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based CD Faialense take on Brockton FC United – who draw their talent from the large Cape Verdean population in the southern part of Massachusetts – in the only Bay State contest on the books in the Third Qualifying Round.
City Derbies & Buffalo’s Hopefuls
Way up north near the Canadian border, Buffalo’s Sahara Gunners FC will try to become the first team from the Queen City in over 50 years to reach the Open Cup’s Tournament Proper. Led by a core of refugees who fled conflict in the Middle East, and with help from some local NFL stars like Damar Hamlin, don’t doubt their chances up against Valhala FC – visiting all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio.
“One Open Cup game is like a whole season for us,” said Gunners coach and forward Kovan Dalil, ahead of a second consecutive home qualifier, and with hopes of eventually bringing professional soccer to his adoptive city. “That’s how much we put into it because we know where it can lead.”
The city of Baltimore will see a battle between two old rivals when 2017 amateur sensation Christos FC take on Steel Pulse FC in Windsor, Maryland. Over in Virginia, Yinz FC of Pittsburgh face off with Mid-Atlantic and UPSL powerhouses Nova FC out of Leesburg, VA.
There’s another city derby down in South Florida with 2022 qualifiers Miami United FC v. Miami Soccer Academy as the headliner of the four Third Round games taking place in the Sunshine State.
Tasty Offerings Straight to the Pacific
Athletic Katy FC vs FORO SC square off in the only game in Texas. And out among the Rockies, we’ll see a familiar contest between 2018 qualifiers FC Denver and the always competitive Azteca FC.
The state of California has seven competitors in action, with 2022 qualifiers Escondido FC taking on Irvine Zeta FC, who’ve scored nine goals (and conceded just one) in their two 2024 Qualifying Round games so far. FC Folsom and Fresno-based Valley 559 FC will also tangle.
Rounding out the Golden State action is a contest between regular Qualifying participants Temecula Football Club, who host Santa Monica Surf in search of a first berth to the Tournament Proper.
“What I’m loving about this team right now is just the chemistry with these boys. They play every team like they’re the toughest opponent,” said Temecula’s new head coach Ignacio Gachuzo. “We’re always going 110 percent and I see it from these guys day in and day out.
“We’re making history and ready to take the next step,” he said.
Saturday October 21st
CD Faialense vs. Brockton FC United
Sharktopus Football Club vs. International San Francisco
Vereinigung Erzgebirge vs. United German Hungarians
Athletic Katy FC vs. FORO SC
Harbor City FC vs. FC America CFL Spurs
Leg-AZ World FC vs. Florida Premier FC
Miami United FC vs. Miami Soccer Academy
Edgewater Castle Football Club vs. Chicago House AC
Austin Thunder vs. Alamo City Soccer Club
Temecula Football Club vs. Santa Monica Surf
Sunday October 22nd
Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals vs. New Jersey Alliance FC
Sahara Gunners FC vs. Valhalla FC
UDA Soccer vs. Sporting Arizona FC (UDA progress by forfeit)
Steel Pulse FC vs. Christos FC
South Carolina United Heat vs. Majestic Soccer Club
Parkland Soccer Club vs. City Soccer FC
Escondido FC vs. Irvine Zeta FC
Kalonji Pro-Profile vs. Tennessee Tempo FC
Yinz United vs. NOVA FC
FC Folsom vs. Valley 559 FC
New York Pancyprian Freedoms vs. NY Renegades FC
FC Denver vs. Azteca FC
Maduro is a senior reporter at large for usopencup.com