March Madness of Soccer: Lamar Hunt US Open Cup[The Lowedown from Bob Lowe]

March Madness of Soccer: Lamar Hunt US Open Cup
In North Carolina: NC Fusion Plays at App FC on Wednesday
Courtesy of Bob Lowe

Let’s talk a little bit about the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, which plays on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

Note that fourth-division clubs enter the tournament now. Amateur clubs in the fifth division and lower have been playing since the Fall. This week’s games are considered the first round. The full schedule is accessible HERE.

In the book “Soccer: $tate in the States” chapter 22 is dedicated to the historic tournament. Here’s an excerpt:

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, also known as the U.S. Open Cup, is a knockout tournament competition in men’s American soccer. It is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the USA.

The tournament was first held during the 1913–14 season as the National Challenge Cup, with Brooklyn Field Club winning the trophy. The competition was renamed and dedicated to NASL and MLS executive Lamar Hunt by the United States Soccer Federation in 1999.

The American knockout tournament was modeled after the FA Cup. First played during the 1871–72 season, the British tourney is the oldest national football competition in the world.

True to its name, The U.S. Open Cup—which primarily runs from March to September, concurrent with the American soccer calendar—is open to professional and amateur teams throughout the nation. Clubs below level 4, however, actually start qualifying in the Fall of the previous year.

The tournament champion earns $300,000 in prize money and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. The runner-up receives $100,000. The furthest-advancing team from each lower-division league gets $25,000.

The best explanation of the U.S. Open Cup for non-soccer fans would be NCAA March Madness. The thrill of underfunded underdogs defeating those from a higher level is dubbed a “cupset.”

And with March Madness in full swing, there are some familiar teams from my book playing this week.

FC Motown (N.J.), Crossfire Redmond (Wash.) are in action. Additionally, there’s an intriguing matchup in North Carolina as NC Fusion visits Appalachian FC. They meet Wednesday night in the North Carolina mountains. Match time is 7 p.m.

Appalachian FC gets a full chapter in “Soccer: $tate in the States.” (Available HERE.) In their third season, they have been a great success. Playing in the National Premier Soccer League, App FC won its conference and made the playoffs last season. The Boone, N.C.-based outfit were eliminated from the postseason at FC Motown, the eventual NPSL champions. In marketing, however, they have few peers.

With their sasquatch mascot and attractive merchandise, the team has been a cash register for sales. The global marketability of a sasquatch mascot should not be underestimated.

While NC Fusion is a newer name in the USL’s League Two, they are one of the most formidable franchises in USL’s history. They used to be known as the Carolina Dynamo before the Fusion co-opted the club under its popular youth program moniker. In 2022, the team won the USL 2 Southern championship before falling in the national semifinal

The Fusion, which plays in Greensboro, N.C., is one of just four organizations to win the prestigious Hank Steinbrecher Cup. The Cup pits the top USL 2, NPSL, the national amateur champ and the previous year’s winner in a weekend tournament. The Dynamo won the inaugural cup in 2013.

The US Open Cup game will be broadcast on Bleacher Report and their Youtube channel HERE.

The winner faces the Charlotte Independence of third-division USL League One. The second round game will be contested in Charlotte in early April.

Weekly Notes: The story in Major League Soccer continues to be expansion side St. Louis City SC. The debutantes are now the first expansion team to start 3-0. They lead the league with eight goals. It’s time for the rest of MLS to step up to this team!… In “Soccer: $tate in the States” we noted that hockey, basketball, and baseball have had their moments, but soccer still rules with the World Cup and genuine interest in national teams. But let’s give it up to the World Baseball Classic. This event is hampered by limitations to the workload of pitchers. Nevertheless, the nationalism and passion at the games in Phoenix, Japan or Miami has been incredible. Good luck to the USA in Wednesday’s championship game!

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Twitter: @robertblowe