It’s officially Open Cup season once again, my favorite time of year filled with chaos and giant-slayers and more soccer than one can possibly hope to follow simultaneously. Trust me, I’ve tried.
The 2019 Open Cup features a whopping 84 teams, and while it’s down slightly from last year, there’s been a massive expansion of local qualifying and a sizable increase in the number of professional sides competing. Last year there were 42, this year 52.
This got me thinking: How many of the competing teams have never won a game in the tournament?
I narrowed this down to just the professional teams, as unlike with the professional sides, the amateur/semipro teams aren’t fixed, meaning many teams are either making their Open Cup debuts or making their first appearance in a few years.
So, that’s 52 teams left. We’ll then trim down the new-for-2019 teams that have never played in the Open Cup. That leaves us with either 42 or 41 teams, depending on whether you consider the MLS iteration of FC Cincinnati the same team that played in USL, or a different team. Honestly, it doesn’t matter, as you’ll see further down the article.
Now onto the fun part. Let’s eliminate from the list all of the Open Cup winners. That’s nine teams from MLS (Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, DC, Dallas, LA Galaxy, Columbus, New England, Houston) and one from USL League One, the Richmond Kickers, who won in 1995.
And then there were 32. We can then go through every other finalist and eliminate them, too. That’s four more teams from MLS (Philadelphia, New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake) and Charleston from the USL Championship. Down to 27.
We’ll narrow that down year by year, beginning in 1996 with the founding of MLS and the oldest of the teams remaining on our list, even though no other names get scratched that year. We have to wait until 1997 to remove another name from our list, the San Jose Earthquakes. Back when they were known as the San Jose Clash, they defeated the Central Coast Roadrunners 5-2 in the second round.
No other names fall from 1998 to 2000, but in 2001, we get to take another name off our list. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds appeared in their second Open Cup and made it all the way to the quarterfinals. They beat the Rapids in the first round 2-0, then the El Paso Patriots in the second round 2-1 before falling in sudden-death overtime — which was a thing back then — to the Chicago Fire.
We have another big gap now, as the next-oldest entrant in 2019, North Carolina FC, began play in 2007. Back then, when they were the RailHawks — a far superior brand than what they currently use, in my very biased opinion — they made a splash in the Open Cup by beating the reigning champion Chicago Fire 1-0 in their debut. They also beat the Kickers to make it to the semifinals, where they eventually lost 2-1 to New England in added time.
We’re down to 24, and it’s time to skip ahead again to 2010. The Tampa Bay Rowdies made their Open Cup debut under their previous name, FC Tampa Bay. In their first game, they defeated Dallas-based Legends FC 3-0 before falling 2-1 to Miami FC (no, not that one) in the next round.
2011 marks another name off our list, Orange County SC. In their inaugural season, they won their first two games against the Hollywood United Hitmen and Ventura County Fusion before losing to the LA Galaxy in the third round.
2012 doesn’t eliminate any names from our list but 2013 does. The Portland Timbers won their first Open Cup game after joining MLS, beating the Wilmington Hammerheads 5-1 to avenge their loss to Cal FC the previous year.
Onto 2014, with our biggest year to date for first wins. Sacramento Republic FC beat Ventura County Fusion 2-1 and then Fresno Fuego 6-0 before losing 2-1 to the San Jose Earthquakes. Phoenix Rising also got their first wins — as Arizona United SC — beating Timbers U23s 3-2 and OKC Energy FC 2-1 before losing to the Galaxy 2-1. The Energy also got their first win, beating the Tulsa Athletics 2-0. The Indy Eleven beat the Dayton Dutch Lions 5-2 before losing 2-1 to Columbus. With that, we’re down to 18.
2015 marks another big year for first wins. The Charlotte Independence won 4-1 against the Upward Stars, 1-0 against the RailHawks, 1-0 against New England and make it all the way to the fifth round before losing to Chicago. Louisville City FC won 1-0 against Lansing United and 2-0 against the Indy Eleven before losing to Chicago. The Colorado Springs Switchbacks won 2-1 against Harpo’s FC and 1-0 against the Real Monarchs before losing to the Rapids. Saint Louis FC prevailed 2-1 against the Des Moines Menace and on penalties against Minnesota United before losing to Sporting KC. The Tulsa Roughnecks won 1-0 against the Seacoast United Phantoms before losing to OKC. Orlando City SC got its first MLS-era wins, beating Charleston in penalties and winning 2-0 against Columbus before, you guessed it, losing to Chicago.
Eleven teams remain.
Things quiet down in 2016, with only one team getting its first Open Cup win. San Antonio FC rose from the ashes of the Scorpions, beating Corinthians FC 3-1 and Des Moines 2-1 before losing to Houston.
In 2017, two more names fall. Reno 1868 FC got its first win, beating OSA FC in penalties before losing to Sacramento. Atlanta also snagged its first win, beating Charleston 3-2 before losing to Miami FC (yes, that one) 3-2.
Onward to 2018, the most recent completed tournament, where more names fall. Tormenta FC, now of USL League One, got a win in its Open Cup debut by beating the Myrtle Beach Mutiny 2-1 before losing to Charleston. Fresno got its first wins, 2-0 against Orange County FC and 2-1 against Sporting Arizona FC before losing to Los Angeles FC — LAFC’s first win. The Las Vegas Lights beat FC Tucson 4-2 before losing 2-1 to FC Golden State Force. Nashville SC earned its first wins by beating Inter Nashville FC 2-0, Mississippi Brilla 3-1 and the Rapids 2-0 before losing to Louisville. Minnesota United FC also got the first win of its MLS era, beating FC Cincinnati in penalties.
And then there was one.
Just one of the professional entrants with prior U.S. Open Cup experience has failed to win a game: New York City FC. They’ve played four games in four tournaments, and have lost all four.
In 2015, they drew the New York Cosmos in their first Open Cup game. Kwadwo Poku gave City a 2-0 lead by the 57th minute, but Leo Fernandes scored in the 65th and Lucky Mkosana in the 90th to send the game to extra time. There were three yellow cards handed out but no goals scored, and thus, penalties. The gods of the PK did not smile upon the Pigeons, and the Cosmos moved on.
They had a chance at revenge in 2016, once again playing the Cosmos for their first game of the tournament. Danny Szetela scored the only goal of the game in the 88th minute to eliminate NYCFC for the second year in a row. 2017 meant City would play their cross-Hudson rivals, the New York Red Bulls. Daniel Royer gave the Red Bulls the lead in the 67th minute, his first career Open Cup goal, and yet again NYCFC was out after its first game.
After three years, one might think things would be different. They’d be wrong. In 2018, City drew the Red Bulls again, playing in Red Bull Arena again. Vincent Bezecourt gave the Red Bulls the lead in the second minute and they never let up. Three goals and 88 minutes later, City was out again in embarrassing fashion after a 4-0 loss to its biggest rival.
In four games, NYCFC has scored just twice while conceding eight times and receiving seven yellow cards. Fifth time’s a charm, maybe?
Oh, and before I forget, the Cincinnati question. I treated the MLS incarnations of USL and NASL teams as separate entities, which they legally are, so Cincinnati is treated as a brand new team for 2019. If, however, you consider them a continuation of the USL club, their first Open Cup win came in 2016, a 2-1 win over the Indy Eleven’s now-defunct NPSL side.
Stay tuned for more fun U.S. Open Cup stories and analysis from us here at Soc Takes. I just can’t wait for the tournament to start!
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.
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