Let the most cynical, hardened English soccer fan get to reminiscing, and eventually he’ll wistfully rhapsodize about “the magic of the FA Cup.” England’s yearly knockout cup competition, the world’s oldest, gives every team in England, from the best of the Premier League down to the lowliest tenth-division semi-pro team, a chance of lifting the trophy at Wembley Stadium in May. A team of fifth-division nobodies might host one of the world’s biggest teams, as happened last year when Sutton United hosted Arsenal in the fifth round. Just this year, third-division Wigan Athletic knocked out Premier League champions Manchester City.
The United States’s version of the FA Cup, the U.S. Open Cup, is nearly as old as its English cousin. This year’s tournament is the 105th edition. For a team like Minnesota United, it’s one of just three trophies available, along with MLS Cup (for the playoff champions) and the Supporters’ Shield (for the regular season league winners). And of those three trophies, only one of them feels winnable this year for the Loons – the oldest one of all.
The team begins its U.S. Open Cup season tonight, with a game at second-division FC Cincinnati. Allow me to plead with the United coaches and staff: please, please, take this competition seriously. Not like last year, when head coach Adrian Heath put out what was effectively a reserve team, one that got slaughtered 4-0 by Sporting Kansas City. Give fans a chance at a trophy run – and a chance to add to Minnesota’s U.S. Open Cup memories, which are among my favorite Minnesota soccer memories.
Some of the highest, and the lowest, moments in the franchise’s history came in the U.S. Open Cup, especially during the pre-2016 era when Minnesota was in the second tier of American soccer. A short recap of the team’s Open Cup history, for the uninitiated:
And so, on to Cincinnati – which has assumed Minnesota’s former role as MLS giant killers. Cincy beat Columbus and Chicago last year, before losing in the semifinals to New York, in extra time. Cincinnati was eager to host this game. Its players will be looking to prove themselves against MLS competition, a year before the team joins the big leagues.
It would be a shame, for Loons fans, if they succeed. The U.S. Open Cup is the team’s best chance of a trophy. Even if they don’t make it that far, the Cup is capable of providing memories for years. Let them be positive memories, like 2004 or 2005 or 2012. Don’t let this be another wasted Cup.