The sadness of an Open Cup half-empty

The 110 year old Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is being threatened by current events. The regional governing body Concacaf have seemingly sided with MLS. Since the facts have been well-covered by others, I’m gonna stick with the light that the tournament brings and the emotional attachment many have to it. At the time of publication, the format for this year (and future years) has not yet been made public, and we will update you when it is. 

Multiple rounds of Open Division Qualifiers for the Open Cup are conducted by teams of hard-working amateurs. The amateur team that lasts longest gets $25000. It’s the same for the longest lasting D2 pro and D3 pro teams.  Call me naïve if you want, but I feel like the Open Division is the best of us as a football nation. I love the amateur clubs who play their way through to face the professionals, and especially those who win such matches. This site wouldn’t exist without our passion for amateur football. Others prefer the pride-filled matches between teams in different professional divisions, or different leagues at the same level. Also, let me say it is a travesty that women’s football doesn’t have a parallel tournament to the one we’re discussing here. Nonetheless, the Cup is the connective tissue of of US football’s body. 

I have a t-shirt from, it celebrates the historic clubs to have won the title 4 times. Working with that site for the last few years, it has provided me a privileged window into this tournament and provided a personal, emotional tie between me in flyover country and this vast, messy country. It’s a landscape where Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania and Maccabee Los Angeles are the most successful clubs ever, and where a stunning panoply of teams from across the nation have won at least once. 

It’s ongoing history too, back in 2018, I was privileged to witness chaos on the turf when Dakota Fusion travelled to University of Minnesota Duluth and played out a 4-4 draw with Duluth FC. The game ended in a spectacular penalty shootout victory for the home side. It was the only time North Dakota has seen itself reflected in national football. DFC have qualified for the tournament again this year, this is their pinned tweet:

I firmly believe that if the Cup did not exist, it wouldn’t be created now and the fear is that any withdrawal by professional sides now will be difficult to reverse. Maybe the cancellations due to Covid 19 in 2020 and 2021 gave some people the impression that the history can be taken for granted.

There is an emerging belief among some football followers that amateur clubs should concentrate on the USASA Amateur Cup, but even that has a carrot at the end in the form of participation in the US Open Cup.

I believe that the Open Cup folding would also put a damper on the division 2 and 3 men’s clubs who have no promotion to a higher division to dream of, and therefore can dream (sometimes even realize) victories against those larger clubs. These games provide a spotlight to professional players seeking to move up, as well as to pre-draft prospects from colleges big and small in a way that March Madness does for basketball. They provide a spotlight to the volunteers who literally make fields playable and clubs function.

It’s not perfect, but it is a festival of possibility in a country where football is otherwise wedged into silos and I believe that unwinding MLS participation is the start of a steady process of debasing the tournament in a way which is very difficult to reverse and the horizon will seem darker without it.