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A look at what the US Open Cup means as MLS sides change focus

Photo: MLSSoccer.com

By Drew Farmer – Twitter: @CalcioFarmer

The Major League Soccer season took a backseat to domestic cup matches this week in the USA. Ten MLS teams took to the field on Tuesday night in the fourth round of US Open Cup action, with seven more playing on Wednesday.

Although no real upsets were recorded Tuesday night, three MLS teams were pushed by lower league sides to extra-time or penalties.

In a match that pitted eternal rivals, Portland and Seattle, in an all-MLS fixture; the Timbers knocked out the defending champions in extra-time. All in all, an exciting night of domestic cup action. Wednesday night should be just as good, with the juiciest fixture seeing New York City FC battle New York Cosmos.

Don’t miss: Sounders end game with 7 players as Portland beat reigning champion in US Open Cup thriller

And while the general US soccer fan may not quite understand the idea behind watching lower league opposition play the USA’s top-flight teams in a cup tournament, there were some positives the Open Cup may increase in popularity.

Sporting KC welcomed 19,298 fans to Sporting Park to see the 2012 cup winners defeat St. Louis FC. With Sporting’s stadium now located on the Kansas side of the border, this can’t be called an intra-Missouri rival. But the game still held enough significance amongst fans to see them turnout in droves.

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For those that say US soccer doesn’t have any history, the Open Cup is a perfect example that they are wrong. The tournament began in 1913/14 and was based on English football’s FA Cup competition. Due to the high immigrant populations in the northeast of the country and the creation of soccer teams influenced by their homelands, the trophy resided its first seven years in that region. As a matter of fact, three teams traded the cup amongst themselves during that time: Brooklyn Field Club, Bethlehem Steel and Fall River Rovers.

It wasn’t until the 1919/20 Open Cup that the trophy found a home away from the east coast. That season, Ben Millers of St. Louis won the tournament, bringing the cup to the Gateway city.

Like numerous soccer teams and even semi-professional baseball teams of the time, Ben Millers received its name as a company team. Ben Millers, a local hat company, was the sponsors of the club.

While soccer has hit peaks and valleys in the US over the years, the tournament lived in obscurity for much of its history. The North American Soccer League, which seemingly had no interest in being a traditional soccer league, chose to ignore the domestic cup. Until the advent of MLS, “professional” teams in the US didn’t participate regularly.

Since the arrival of MLS teams, only one season has seen a lower league side take the cup. That year, 1999, the Rochester Rhinos defeated Colorado Rapids in front of an estimated 4,555.

Rochester Rhinos lift the 1999 US Open Cup (Photo: TheCup.us)

Rochester Rhinos lift the 1999 US Open Cup (Photo: TheCup.us)

What is the draw of the Open Cup? Of course, there is the opportunity to see a semi-professional team take on MLS quality stars. In addition, like England’s FA Cup, the big stars may very well be out of their elements; playing on a soccer pitch typically used by universities, high schools or for training. Which is the equivalent of seeing an arena rock band like the Foo Fighters in a small dingy club.

This season could be the coming out party of the US Open Cup into the American soccer mainstream. The game is currently on a high, continually rising; and the appeal is there for the American fan. Meanwhile, the cup’s uniqueness could endear it to American sports.

With teams taking it seriously, lower league soccer clubs popping up all over the country and record MLS crowds, there’s no reason the cup can’t become an even bigger prize than it already is seen as.

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The US Open Cup has already endured 102 years since its inception in 1913. It has battled disinterest and low attendance, but now after all these years, a new set of fans and teams have found its appeal.

Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @Calciofarmer. Drew Farmer is a Manchester, England-based journalist/blogger that has writes for MLSGB and World Soccer Talk. Drew has also been read on Forza Italian Football and Soccerly. Originally from southwest Missouri, Drew covers Italy’s Serie A, English football and USA soccer.

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