Alive & Kicking: #USOC2024 First Round Preview

American soccer’s oldest and most venerable tournament returns for its 109th edition between March 19-21 with a blockbuster 32-game First Round made up exclusively of amateur-vs-pro contests.
By: Jonah Fontela

The Open Cup is back.

And, oh boy, does that feel good to say. Format changes, like the constriction of Major League Soccer first-team participation and the inclusion of MLS NEXT Pro teams, have conspired to create a particularly massive First Round – one with a huge schedule of games dripping with possibilities as 32 amateur underdogs load their slingshots and take aim at 32 Division III professional squads. 

Read on for a break-down of the First Round’s participants and potentials as 64 teams battle it out in single-elimination knockout play between March 19-21 with places in the Second Round on the line. You can watch all the action – every game of this First Round – on, and

Day One – Green Scene Up North

We’ll start with Vermont Green FC, who’ll host an historic first-ever Open Cup game in the Green Mountain State when USL League One pros Lexington Sporting Club come to Burlington.


●      READ: Being Vermont Green: Soccer & World-Saving in Burlington 

“It's something that this community and honestly the entire state of Vermont has craved for a long time,” said team captain Jake Ashford of the USL League Two club, known for an eco-friendly profile, spot-on branding and huge crowds at their Virtue Field. “There's no doubt that there's gonna be hundreds, if not thousands of fans at these games because they just care that much.”

The first game of Day One – and the entire 109th edition of the Open Cup – sees an old familiar participant in Chattanooga FC, who’ve jumped around the leagues in recent years before landing, finally, in MLS NEXT Pro. The seven-time USOC participants from Tennessee will become the first team from Major League Soccer’s developmental league to take part in Open Cup tournament play.

“The Open Cup is a really good chance for us to put our name out there,” said Logan Brown, the goalkeeper-turned-center back from the University of Dayton who walked on to Rod Underwood’s team via an open tryout. “The support we get there [at Finley Stadium] is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

These MLS NEXT Pro history-makers will have their hands full when Miami United FC roll into town.


Robertino Insua (R) of Miami United FC was top-scorer in 2024 Qualifying and trophy assistant at last year’s Open Cup Final

The South Florida side are among the cream of the all-amateur men’s league teams – and they earned their way into this year’s competition (as they have four times since 2013) through the grueling Open Division Qualifying Rounds in the fall.

Elsewhere on Opening Day are contests between Florida amateurs Brave SC (formerly The Villages) from USL League Two, who’ll take on NISA pro side Savannah Clovers FC with credibly high hopes of pulling off an upset. “Not being in the Cup last year, we felt like something was missing and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of playing a professional team,” long-time Brave coach Anderson DaSilva said. “This year is special because it’s the first time we’re hosting a professional team.”

●      READ: Brave SC Ready to Live Up to New Name

Be sure to turn your attention up Wisconsin way as USL League One’s favorite flamingos Forward Madison FC host Duluth FC, one of eight teams from the nationwide National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). The Minnesota amateurs are making their Open Cup return for the first time since 2019 and, part-owned by Olympic gold medal-winning curler John Shuster, they’re hoping to slide into an early-round upset.

Tulsa Athletic return to the site of last year’s underdog heroics – Hicks Park

Tulsa Athletic are at home again at their spiritual homebase of Hicks Park, site of their surprise win over USL Championship side FC Tulsa in last year’s Open Cup. “Nothing in this sport in our country has as much history and prestige behind it [as the Open Cup],” said club founder and local restaurateur Sonny Dalesandro.

●      READ: How Tulsa Athletic Became the Toast of USOC-World

The Tulsans – earners of last year’s $25,000 prize to the Open Division side that reached farthest – aim to tame another pro team in the form of Northern Colorado Hailstorm (USL League One).


Austin FC II, hotshots of MLS NEXT Pro, take on amateur survivors of the Open Division Qualifying Rounds Foro SC (of Dallas). South Georgia Tormenta of USL League One – who were impressive in last year’s run to the Third Round – host Qualifying Round graduates FC America CFL Spurs at their brand-new stadium in Statesboro, Georgia. And finally, regular Open Division qualifiers and former national amateur champions West Chester United SC, led by longtime men’s league legend Blaise Santangelo, will be more than a challenge for NISA pros Maryland Bobcats.


●      READ: El Farolito – San Fran OGs & Former Open Cup Cup Champs



The last game on the menu for Day One sees Timbers2 of MLS Next Pro host NPSL’s El Farolito – formerly known as C.D. Mexico and champions of the 1993 Open Cup.

Day Two – An Open Cup Classic Revived

The second day of First Round action features Christos FC – the Baltimore-area amateur all-stars headquartered in a Ferndale liquor store – returning to Richmond, Virginia’s nearly 100-year-old City Stadium to take on USL League One professionals the Richmond Kickers.

Larry Sancomb is still coaching Christos, same as he was on May 17th, 2017 when his side – in their bright green t-shirts – beat the 1995 Open Cup champion Kickers in a Cupset for the ages to set up a date with MLS’ D.C. United (who Christos briefly led).


●      READ: Open Cup REWIND – ‘Lightning in a Bottle’ for 1995 Kickers

“For some of these guys it could be their last run in an Open Cup.” said Sancomb, who’ll be bringing two veterans of that famous run six years ago in midfielders Cody Albrecth and tireless midfielder Dan Baxter. “We have a good mix of younger and older guys – our mix is always good.”

While Ballard FC don’t have any Open Cup pedigree, they do have lofty ambitions. The USL League Two amateurs expect another huge crowd at Seattle’s historic Memorial Stadium when they take on Spokane Velocity of USL League One (also debuting in our tournament). The Ballard men do have the edge of being led by a man with more than his share of Open Cup experience – and medals.

“This competition and its history are immense,” said James Riley, who won all five of the Open Cup Finals he played in (with the Seattle Sounders, New England Revolution and D.C. United). “We’re looking forward to a wild game; anything can happen in the Open Cup.”

March 20th is the longest day of the First Round, with a total of 13 games. Among those is a return to the Open Cup for Chicago House AC. The Windy City amateur club, founded by former
Open Cup-winning executive Peter Wilt, reached the Third Round and met his old club (the Chicago Fire of MLS) last year.

With captain
AR Smith leading the way on the field and Coach Matt Poland pulling the strings, it would take a brave person to bet against House pulling off a shock against visiting MLS NEXT Pros MNUFC2.

“The Open Cup is this beautiful, chaotic, unpredictable, amazing, wonderful and stressful thing,” said Poland – a young coach destined for the bright lights of bigger stages. “You just never know.”
Chicago House AC are back for the second year in a row

There’s another Chicago-based contest that same day. Chicago Fire FC II take on Chicago City SC’s amateurs from USL League Two. And while we’re on about IIs – New York Red Bulls II will host the Hudson Valley Hammers of USL League Two, too.

Elsewhere on Day Two are contests between NISA’s LA Force and USL League Two outfit Redlands SC. Another NISA side from California, Irvine Zeta FC, host the 2023
USASA National Amateur Champions MesoAmerica SC while debutants FC Folsom – survivors of last fall’s Qualifying Rounds – meet former USMNT star Jermaine Jones’ revamped USL League One pro side Central Valley Fuego.

South Carolina United FC return to host Greenville Triumph SC of USL League One, while Asheville City SC of USL League Two make their Open Cup debut at home in North Carolina against USL League One pros One Knoxville SC. A little farther south in Georgia, we have a contest between two debutants: NPSL amateurs Apotheos FC and NISA pros Georgia Lions. (Apotheos FC advance via Georgia Lions forfeit on March 18th).

●      READ: Asheville City SC – From Half an Idea to Full-Fledged Family

Florida’s sun-drenched Daytona Beach will host AS Frenzi’s first-ever Open Cup game – as the UPSL Spring Champions take on visiting NISA pros and fellow Sunshine Staters Club de Lyon FC, who are returning for their second – and second-straight – U.S. Open Cup.


Day Two’s hulking schedule is rounded out by Capo FC – NISA newcomers to the Open Cup – taking on
traditional amateur giant-killers the Des Moines Menace. The Iowans – with a history of knocking off pro teams going back to 1994 – are one game away from becoming the winningest amateur side in our tournament’s Modern Era.

Day Three – Soccer in a Football World

Lubbock Matadors – from deep in the heart of Texas – host a first Open Cup game in their history at LCU Soccer Field. Arizona Monsoon FC are the new NISA pros coming to town to make up the opposition for the day – one which should see a large crowd if previous turnouts for the reigning Lone Star Conference (NPSL) champions are any indication.


Morristown, New Jersey’s FC Motown are back for another tilt at Cup glories. Talisman and former MLS journeyman Dilly Duka returns to the side – but this time as head coach as Motown try to match their performance of 2022 when they finished as the best Open Division side in the tournament and earned $25,000 for their efforts.


●      READ: Dilly Duka Returns (Again) to Lead FC Motown Charge

“It [the Open Cup] is going to be a challenge for us,” said Duka ahead of the meeting at home in Montclair against NYCFC II of MLS NEXT Pro. “We have an older group – but if we have everyone, we should be able to compete.”

There’s another famous Open Cup venue in action on Day Three – out in the wilds of Western Massachusetts. Ludlow’s Lusitano Stadium –
New England’s only soccer-specific stadium and home to the Western Mass Pioneers of USL League Two (the hundred + year-old club formerly known as Gremio Lusitano) – hosts 2022 Open Cup Quarterfinalists and USL League One darlings Union Omaha.

It’s a clash of the new and old – both great – of Open Cup lore. 

Vereinigung Erzgebirge are back in the Open Cup for the first time since 2002

Vereinigung Erzgebirge is a mouthful of a name to pronounce – but the club’s been around for nearly 100 years and braved four games of Qualifying to reach this First Round. Their opponents on the day will be Charlotte Independence of USL League One – who bucked a recent trend of losing to amateur sides in the Open Cup when they reached last year’s Third Round (where they lost a 1-0 squeaker against 2008 Runners-up the Charleston Battery) .

●      READ: Among the Pines – a Visit with Vereinigung Erzgebirge

“Qualifying is so challenging. We qualified, and the reward is that we get this game,” said VE’s coach of 25 years, Rob Oldfield. “I'd like to make it competitive, give them [Independence] a good game – and hope they make mistakes.”
Steel City FC of NPSL host NISA’s Michigan Stars FC while Chattanooga Red Wolves SC of USL League One welcome Massachusetts-based Qualifying Round survivors Brockton FC United – a side built around the city’s large Cape Verdean community.


●      READ: World Cup to Open Cup – the Story of Brockton’s Wuilito Fernandes

The First Round concludes with a clutch of MLS NEXT Pro teams playing ambitious amateurs who endured the fires of the Qualifying Rounds  – Ventura County FC (formerly LA Galaxy II) host Irvine Zeta FC. Crown Legacy Football Club take on men’s league amateurs South Carolina United Heat while Colorado Rapids 2 take on Denver part-timers Azteca FC

Rounding out the Round, MLS NEXT Pro’s Carolina Core face NoVA FC of USL League Two.

The 32 winners from this First Round – broadcast in its entirety on, and – will play each other in the 2024 Open Cup’s Second Round (April 2nd and 3rd)

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