Who are the favorites to win the Open Cup this year?
I think it really comes down to depth and a team’s commitment to winning the tournament. It’s been nice to see fewer and fewer teams just throwing out 3rd string lineups as the years pass, but I think that has a lot to do with the rosters expanding and having the Champions League as a reward for winning the tournament.
What is the likelihood of a non-MLS team winning the Cup?
That’s the beauty of the tournament, is that any team could win. MLS teams obviously have an advantage, but just as MLS teams have gotten more talented and deeper, that has created a trickle-down effect where lower division teams are getting stronger as well. I’m not sure how anyone could think it’s impossible, really. Just look at the last five years where we’ve seen lower division teams reach the Semifinals four times, including the Charleston Battery playing in the 2008 Final.
Is there any chance that someone could start an Open Cup on the women’s side? There are over 70 WPSL teams, over 25 W-League, and a few WPS teams that are not playing anywhere this season. That is a lot of teams, certainly enough for a cup-style competition. What might it look like?
The USASA runs a women’s Open Cup, but the USSF does not have a women’s version of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. There are certainly enough teams to compete, and I would love to see it happen, and we would gladly find room on TheCup.us to cover it. However, the reality is, this is a big country, so travel is an issue, and from an organizational standpoint, the USSF seems to barely have the staff and resources to fully support the men’s tournament, so unless someone else stepped up to organize it, I don’t know if it’s very likely to happen.
What will it take for the Open Cup to gain more prominence in America?
I say this all the time, but I truly think that the tournament would sell itself, if more people were aware of it. I tell people all the time, even non-soccer fans, “Imagine if your local single-A baseball team got a chance to play the New York Yankees in a meaningful March Madness-style tournament?” I’ve never spoken to anyone who didn’t think that was a fantastic idea. In a country that worships drama, underdogs, single-elimination tournaments, this should be a no-brainer. But unfortunately, very little is done to promote the tournament and, as of now, the only Open Cup games you’ll ever see on TV is the championship game. Honestly, I don’t think it’s the semifinals and the final that will raise awareness, it’s amateur teams knocking off professional teams in the early part of the tournament that make this tournament unique.
What was the greatest team to ever participate in the U.S. Open Cup?
Comparing teams from different eras is really difficult because the soccer landscape has changed so drastically over the last 98 years that the tournament has been. The difference between the teams that competed in the early part of the 20th century and the professional era we live in now are night and day. One of the more impressive teams of the past was Bethlehem Steel, based out of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They lost to the eventual champion Brooklyn Field Club in the first tournament in 1914, and then went on a run where they won the Open Cup, then called the National Challenge Cup, in 1915, 1916, lost in the title game in 1917, then won in 1918 and 1919. Their last championship came in 1926, but they also made the semifinals in 1924, 1927 and 1930. Not a bad 17-year run.
What makes the Cup special and how does it rate/compare to other competitions elsewhere in the world?
The US Open Cup is one of the oldest cup competitions in the world, and off the top of my head, I believe it’s the third or fourth oldest continuously running cup competition worldwide. As I said before, the beauty of the tournament is the fact that anyone can put a team together and if they keep winning, they can match up against one of the top professional clubs in the country. I think with the right amount of effort to promote it, American soccer fans, as well as your average sports fan, could really latch on to this historic competition.