US Open Cup History Part 1: 1914 to 1938
The first 99 years of U.S. Open Cup history are not only the story of
American club soccer. It is the story of the modern United States.
For the uninitiated, the Open Cup (formerly known as the National
Challenge Cup, now called the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup) is a national
competition open to any sanctioned U.S. soccer club on any level and in
any league. It is a knockout tournament — akin to the N.C.A.A.
basketball tourney. It has included as many as 186 clubs in any given
year. The winner has been awarded the Dewar Trophy — a gift from the
Scottish distiller Thomas Dewar to an American federation in the early
1900s. When the U.S. became part of FIFA in 1914, one of the first acts
was to assemble and promote a national tournament modeled after the
English F.A. Cup. It has been around since.
Part 1 of this slide-show series — 1914 to 1938 — defines the
tournament. Professional teams and top players from all over the world
participated. Rivalries so fierce that broken bones, police intervention
and large crowds were common. St. Louis, New York, New England and
Bethlehem, Pa., became Cup hotspots. Team owners like Charles Schwab
dedicated themselves to winning the tournament. With all this drama,
growing national interest was no coincidence.
As a national competition that ranks among the oldest in the world — and
a professional North American sports trophy second only to ice hockey's
Stanley Cup in age — the U.S. Open Cup deserves to be mentioned in the
same breath as our other great sporting tournaments. Sadly, it seldom
American soccer players, clubs and supporters have always faced
adversity: xenophobia, discrimination, ignorance and disrespect. It is
no coincidence the tournament that signifies soccer faced similar
challenges. Top-flight leagues alternated between fighting, ignoring and
reluctantly participating in the Open Cup. Jingoistic attacks on
immigrants haunted it. The U.S. sports and soccer establishment
sometimes still scorn it.
Discounted, disdained and disregarded, the Open Cup lives on. Invisible
as it might be to the general public, it remains the backbone of
Consider the players: Stark, Gonsalves, Patenaude, McNabb, Gaetjens,
Barr, Keough, Mendoza, Harkes, Ramos, Lalas, Donovan, McBride and
Dempsey, to name a few.
From the Seattle Sounders to Bethlehem Steel, Fall River Rovers to the
Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Los Angeles Galaxy to United German Hungarians
— the Cup connects, defines and frames the game.
For all American soccer people, it is the story of us.
US Open Cup History Part 2: 1939 to 1957
The U.S. Open Cup experienced tremendous growth and interest in its
first 25 years. The next 20 years brought fresh challenges, most notably
World War II, which focused suspicion on immigrants who made up the core
of soccer's players and supporters. Interest initally waned as the war
raged in Europe, but two years after the start of the war, crowds for
the final rebounded.
Teams from New York, Fall River (Mass.), Chicago and St. Louis remained
fixtures in the competition, white western Pennsylvania sealed its Cup
legacy, and Southern California began one.
Billy Gonsalves dominated the tournament's early years and continued to
star. Records of the "man mountain goal getter's" prowess have been
lost, but he probably surpassed 1,000 goals in his career. When American
sports fans were asked to name their top athlete as part of a 1944 war
bond drive, he was one of the soccer players that polled in the top 100.
The Cup's first and second eras included stars from U.S. World Cup
teams. Gonsalves's teammate Bert Patenaude was the first man to notch a
hat trick in the first World Cup, in Uruguay in 1930. They gave way to
new generation of players. The 1950 World Cup team, which defeated
England in Brazil, included players who have been canonized: Borghi,
Barr, Gaetjens, Keough, Mendoza, Columbo, Souza. All cut their teeth in
the Open Cup; each appeared in at least one final.
Professional teams continued to play a major role, but amateur clubs
began to have an impact. So strong were two amateur champs — Kutis of
St. Louis and Ponta Delgada of Fall River — both were drafted intact to
represent the United States in international competition during the '40s
With the approach of the 1960s, the U.S. Open Cup remained the only
national soccer competition open to teams, professional and amateur, at
all levels of the game. Leagues (with shocking frequency) and clubs came
and went. Despite myriad challenges, the Open Cup carried on.
US Open Cup History Part 3: 1958 to 1987
From the 1960s through the 1980s the U.S. Open Cup produced compelling
soccer — and faced serious challenges. The tournament faded amid
competition from other sports and an ever-changing soccer landscape.
Still, the Cup lived on.
New dynasties grew to replace teams like Bethlehem (Pa.) and Fall River
(Mass.). The New York Greek Americans and Philadelphia Ukrainian
Nationals battled in the 1960s. The New York Pancyprians and Maccabi Los
Angeles emerged in the 1970s. California teams dominated in the West.
Clubs from the Los Angeles Soccer League accounted for half of the
Over the last 50 years, the owners and organizers of professional
leagues in the U.S. saw the Cup as a European oddity unworthy of their
attention in an American sporting landscape of playoffs and insular
The lack of interest among the top pro leagues and the dominance of
ethnic clubs define this chapter of the Open Cup history. The
International Soccer League, which imported foreign teams, got some
attention in the early 1960s — but the clubs were not eligible to play
in the domestic cup. North American Soccer League teams never had much
use for the Open Cup. Even the American Soccer League, which had been
playing in the Open Cup since 1933, lost interest.
Those defections opened the door to the ethnic clubs that represented
their immigrant communities. The New York Greek Americans, founded in
1946, became perennial contenders from the '60s through the '80s. The
local Ukrainian community and its team in Philadelphia also found
success in the Open Cup.
Despite the absence of the top professional clubs, Cup finals sometimes
attracted more fans than some N.A.S.L. games in the 1970s. In 1970,
Elizabeth (N.J.) won the Open Cup and played in the Concacaf Champions
Cup, stealing a draw against mighty Cruz Azul of Mexico.
Shunned by the N.A.S.L. and eventually the A.S.L, dismissed as an
anachronism, demeaned as as an ethnic curiosity, ignored by the U.S. pro
sports establishment and absent from the headlines, the U.S. Open Cup
has refused to go away and die.
Looking toward the 21st century, Major League Soccer, more aware of its
place in the world of soccer, has embraced the Open Cup along with the
lower divisions of the U.S. soccer pyramid. It is not quite the English
F.A. Cup, yet, but. ... the winner earns a berth in the Concacaf
Champions League and the possibility of playing in the FIFA Club World Cup.
US Open Cup History Part 4: 1988 to 2012
When top-flight teams returned to the US Open Cup, the US Open Cup
returned to American consciousness.
The 1920s featured a long running battle between professional leagues
and the new tournament. One result was that big clubs and leagues
occasionally chose not to participate. When top-flight clubs didn't
show, interest in the competition flagged dramatically.
When big league teams began turning their back on the Cup again in the
1960s, it was no coincidence that US supporters and media began to
follow suit. When Pele' played his first game for the New York Cosmos on
the same day as the 1975 US Open Cup Final between Maccabbi Los Angeles
and New York Inter, the die was finally cast. Between then and the
beginning of MLS, it the competition simply disappeared from the
Following the great NASL and ASL collapse in the 1980s US Soccer
President Werner Fricker made the call that changed it all: Just as they
had done for the first fifty years of the US Open Cup, he committed
top-flight clubs to the competition again.
It took eight more years - but when top US clubs returned the contrast
couldn't have been more dramatic. In the early nineties the US soccer
pyramid was still in flux -- and the cup was still dominated by an array
of smaller clubs. Virtual pub teams won it twice. Newspapers didn't
waste a drop of ink on it. Some five years later it was on national
television for the first time. Ten years after that, Seattle was
shattering all-time attendance records that had stood since the 1920s.
Big upsets have always marked the competition, but this era hosted more
than any other. Since 1996, MLS has failed to win the Cup only once, but
lower division clubs have knocked them out of the competition with
alarming regularity. Clubs like Dallas Roma, Cal FC, Chicago Stingers,
Milwaukee Rampage and Minnesota Thunder enjoyed remarkable runs and took
MLS scalps in the process.
MLS teams are set to enter the 100th edition of the US Open Cup. Due in
no small part to their participation, the competition has never burned
brighter. Interest has never been greater. If recent history is any
guide, surprises are in store.
What will the future bring?