It’s Win-and-You’re-In time.
The field of competing teams, amateurs of the Open Division who fought through three previous Qualifying Rounds, is now whittled down to a slim 22. And while 11 of those will come to know so-close-yet-so-far heartbreak, a place in the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup awaits the 11 victors.
- SCHEDULE | FOURTH & FINAL QUALIFYING ROUND
There will be seven games played on Saturday followed by four more on Sunday – and five of the teams in action are trying to reach the Tournament Proper for a second-straight year.
Quintet Chasing Second Straight
Chicago House AC, founded in the dire times of the COVID-19 pandemic by former Chicago Fire President and GM Peter Wilt with aspirations of a professional future, pivoted to become one of the top amateur performers in the country instead.
The Windy City side is coached by 32-year-old Matt Poland – a man who’s “going places” according to four-time Open Cup champion Wilt and most others familiar with his work in the technical area. He and his House are out on the road for the second year in a row as they try to seal Qualification against an impressive Valhalla FC on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Our veterans are important, guys like [captain] AR Smith and [Goalkeeper, Tony Halterman]” said coach Poland ahead of an all-or-nothing contest against a Valhalla side still likely to be flying high after a 10-1 road win in Buffalo in the previous Round. “This year’s [House] team is much deeper – I’ll be able to go to the bench a lot more and maintain the level.”
UDA Soccer – the UPSL club affiliated with New Mexico State University in Las Cruces – meet Azteca FC of Denver, Colorado for the second year in a row at this decisive stage. The replay of last year’s Fourth-Rounder, played in frigid temps in mid-December, can only hope to match the previous meeting for drama as it produced eight goals (4-4) and needed a penalty shootout to decide it.
It’s likely to be considerably warmer down in Murfreesboro, where Tennessee Tempo – who reached last year’s Open Cup Proper under their then-name Beaman United FC and led by former MLS and USL Championship standout Kwadwo Poku – host South Carolina United Heat.
The Columbia SC-based academy team reached this same Final stage of last year’s Qualifying.
International San Francisco – the exciting up-and-comers out of the San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL) won’t be happy about taking to the road again (for the third time in four Qualifiers this year). They were also drawn away in last year’s Fourth Rounder, in frosty temps in Nevada, but that one turned out OK for Amir Darabi’s men from the City by the Bay (a 5-1 win over BattleBorn FC).
This year’s opponent is in-state at least – Northern California side FC Folsom, hailing from the Sacramento area – are taking aim at their first Open Cup berth.
Travel won’t be a major concern for the one remaining side trying to make it two-in-row as last year’s participants Miami United FC take on local rivals City Soccer FC. The club’s are separated by only a small distance in South Florida. Both of their captains – Robertino Insua (Miami United FC) and Auner Cobon Escobar (CSFC) – were on hand as invited guests to present the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy on the occasion of the 2023 Final at DRV PNK Stadium on September 27th (pictured above).
Now, they’re both one win away from going on to chase that very prize for themselves.
Amateur Titans & Historic Clubs
There’s a huge contest in the Mid-Atlantic region, where Christos FC – Baltimore-based underdog heroes of the 2017 Open Cup and among the top amateur clubs in the country for the last decade – take on NoVA FC of Leesburg. The Northern Virginians, improving every year, are aiming for a similar status and to make it two trips to the Open Cup in the space of three years.
“We’re definitely looking forward to playing this Christos group – it's always a good battle between the two clubs,” said NoVa FC coach and mastermind Kareem Sheta. “It should be a good entertaining game for people to enjoy.”
Farther north we’ll have another intriguing contest between NY Pancyprian-Freedoms, the Queens-based club who are the only former champion remaining in action this weekend. They’ll take on Massachusetts’ impressive and ever-competitive Brockton FC United, who are taking part in their fourth consecutive Final Round Qualifier, at St. John’s University.
While they can’t match the Pancyprians’ three titles, Pennsylvania’s Vereinigung Erzgebirge have nearly 100 years of history in the American game. And they’ll be keen to reach the Open Cup Proper for the first time since 2022 when they host a powerful New Jersey Alliance FC who routed the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals 6-0 in the last Round.
Out west we have Irvine Zeta FC – who’ve scored ten goals in three Qualifiers so far – hosting Temecula FC at Orange County’s Great Park. Both sides are looking to reach a first Open Cup.
Maduro is a senior reporter at large for usopencup.com.
The weekend’s competition is rounded out by an all-Texas affair between FORO SC and Alamo City SC and another state derby in Florida, where FC America CFL Spurs host fellow Sunshine Staters Leg-AZ World FC in Lake Mary.