Charleston Battery’s Adam Grinwis & the Long Open Cup Road

Charleston Battery goalkeeper Adam Grinwis is rekindling a love affair with the Open Cup that started back as a teenage Michigan Buck and ran through to MLS with 2022 champs Orlando City.
By: Jonah Fontela

“I ride hard for the Open Cup,” Adam Grinwis said with a smile, loving his new life in South Carolina as the first-choice goalkeeper for high-flying USL Championship side Charleston Battery. “I love this tournament.”

It’s no wonder, really. The highlights of the goalkeeper’s self-described “rollercoaster of a career” seem to come in (and strangely, around) our country’s most historic tournament. He and his unmissable shock of red hair have been connected to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for over a decade – going all the way back to before he even knew what it was.

“Playing in that indoor barn we had out there, that was special.” said Grinwis who, long before he used his lightning reflexes to break into Major League Soccer, was invited to play summers with the Michigan Bucks of the old PDL (now the Flint City Bucks). “Being a Michigan kid, if you were one of the best club or college players, you played for the Bucks,” he remembered of “the honor” of being called in during his days at the University of Michigan.

“I didn’t really know anything about the Open Cup then,” admitted Grinwis, now 32, about those early days. “But it was a chance to play against professional teams.”

Pontiac Glory Days

He learned fast. He was named PDL goalkeeper (and rookie) of the year in his first season with the Bucks. And just as fast, he became a part of the legend and lore of the Open Cup. “All of a sudden we're in Pittsburgh playing against the Riverhounds [second-division pros of the USL] at some high school and I’m having one of the best games of my life,” said Grinwis, who, listed generously at 6foot2, isn’t the tallest goalkeeper you’ll meet. “And we win.”

That would have been enough for the local kid, born and raised up north in Ada, Michigan, but it was just the beginning. “All of a sudden we’re playing the Chicago Fire. I’m thinking: what am I doing? More than just a chance to face the MLS club he’d been watching since he was nine years old, at the Bucks old indoor field in Pontiac, he stood out again in another, bigger, shock win. A Cupset for the ages.

Grinwis is in his first year for USL Championship powers Charleston Battery / Photo Victor Schwanke

“It was an incredibly surreal moment,” he said, thinking back to 12 years ago, in 2012. “I was so green, so ignorant to the whole process. I can’t think of a cooler experience for a 19-year-old kid.”

Grinwis rode those pivotal early moments to a professional career, which began in Rochester with the old Rhinos. “I was lucky enough to be there for a title-winning season,” he said of the USL crown he won in 2015, his first year as a pro, for the club, now sadly defunct, that made history by becoming the only non-MLS teams in the MLS Era to win the Open Cup (in 1999).

That, and a successful stint at St Louis FC (who would go to the Quarterfinals in the 2019 Open Cup) earned him a shot in the big leagues of MLS.

Grinwis is mobbed by Orlando City teammates in the 2019 Open Cup

Having reached the top tier, with Orlando City SC, Grinwis’ career stalled in that way peculiar to goalkeepers. He became a permanent back-up. Training hard, as hard as anyone in the squad, there was no pay-off at the end of the week. But he knew his chances would come in the Open Cup.

“No one’s expecting anything from the second or third-choice goalkeeper, but I took that as a point of pride,” he said of the 2019 Quarterfinal against NYCFC that his excellent play helped send to a shootout. “In penalties the pressure’s off you as a goalkeeper and you go back to when you were a little kid and you wanted to stand in the spotlight.

“You want to be the hero, and you get the chance to be,” he said.

Running of the Wall

It was a day made famous by Orlando fans running the length of Exploria Stadium, manically through the concourses, to get behind Grinwis after NYCFC’s Maxime Chanot won the coin toss and selected to take the kicks at the empty end of the field. Grinwis saved two penalties and became forever associated with that year’s Semifinal run (and what became known in Orlando City lore as the ‘Running of the Wall’).

“I’m forever indebted to Orlando City and especially all the fans at the club,” he said, tilting his laptop during the video-call interview for this story to reveal posters of his time in Florida framed on the wall of his home in Charleston. “I’m not there anymore, but they always make me feel loved.”

Good luck trying to find anyone with a bad word to say about Grinwis. Fellow Orlando City goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar, who Grinwis helped plan and pull off a surprise marriage proposal on-field after an Open Cup game in 2022, calls him a “really special guy.”

That’s pretty much an across-the-board sentiment.

But all players want to play week in and week out. And, in 2020, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen for him in Orlando. When the outstanding Peruvian international Pedro Gallese was brought into the club, the “writing was on the wall” according to Grinwis, who slid farther still down the pecking order.

Sacramento Republic – who would go on to reach the Final of the Open Cup in 2022 – was Grinwis’ next destination. What was meant to be a rebirth turned into a nightmare. Knee ligament rupture led to surgery. Follow-up infections led to more surgeries and a year where he was “basically living at the hospital.”

When the Republic decided not to pick up his contract, Grinwis, one of the most cheerful characters you’ll meet, hit a low ebb. Deep in the muck of self-doubt, he decided to go back to where it all started – to Ann Arbour, Michigan.

The Low-Down

“I got a call to help out with some finishing training with some high schoolers, out in the middle of nowhere in Michigan. It’s freezing cold,” he said, remembering one of his lowest points, when chucking it all in seemed inevitable. “I’m saving some shots, but they’re scoring on me too.

“And I’m thinking: I was just a pro player and playing an Open Cup Semifinal and now this – is this ever going to really happen for me?”

He was making cold calls in search of a foothold for the next step, trying to stay positive and heed the advice of loved ones, when out of nowhere, he ended up back in Orlando. “I was living there rent free with my old teammate, Will Johnson, helping look after his kids,” he said of his return to Orlando City, who offered to let him finish his rehab at the club.

“It was just this crazy process – another crazy part of the rollercoaster ride,” he said about eventually signing again for the club – in need of back-up cover – from 2021 through to last year.”

Grinwis salutes the fans in Orlando during his MLS days

He won an Open Cup too – in that second stretch in Orlando. He was third in line behind Stajduhar and Gallese, who’d established himself as one of MLS’ best by then. So Grinwis didn’t play any minutes in the 2022 Open Cup run, but he did earn a winners medal and a championship ring as a squad player.

“It feels almost spiritual,” he said of his new home in Charleston, a step down into the country’s second division and at a club that reached the Open Cup Final as underdogs in 2008 (Grinwis was 16 then, pre-dating even his Bucks years). “All those challenging times and you think it’s not going to happen. Working so hard and now to be able to step out on the field at the end of the week and just play,” he said. “To be playing the game you love, I feel so much gratitude.” 

A New Home

“Steady” and “selfless” are two words Battery head coach Ben Pirmann – a fellow Michigander – uses to describe his new goalkeeper. “Two things that have surprised me about Adam are: first, how excellent of a leader he is, and, second, how athletic and courageous he is,” the coach added.

There’s no golden road leading to the happy, Hollywood ending of Adam Grinwis lifting the Open Cup trophy as a full-fledged starter in Charleston. But there is the possibility of it. Up first for the Battery in our Round of 32, is a game against a team from a lower division. “That’s the beauty of the Open Cup, right,” said the goalkeeper, ten years in the pro game and living his dream again.

“It’s an opportunity for them, same as it is for me and was for me way back when with the Bucks,” he said of third-division South Georgia Tormenta. “It’s poetic, man, and I’m all for it.”

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