On June 17, Orlando City will join 16 other MLS teams entering the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, America’s oldest and most prestigious soccer tournament. With the Charleston Battery’s victory over the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers on Wednesday, Orlando City will travel to Blackbaud Stadium for a fourth round match-up against the Battery – a contest the Lions intend to take very seriously.
Some have criticized MLS teams in the past of not placing much importance on the tournament. For example, during the third round of the 2013 tournament, the LA Galaxy played in Cary, North Carolina against the Carolina RailHawks sending a team of young players that had not appeared for the first team. In fact, head coach Bruce Arena didn’t even make the trip. As a result, they were defeated 2-0 and quickly knocked out of the tournament.
The reason some clubs aren’t as keen on the tournament is that U.S. Open games are typically played during the week in between weekend MLS games. This differs from other leagues around the world where certain weekends are set aside specifically for domestic cup competitions. Because most MLS teams place greater focus on league competition, the games straddling the cup often carry more significance.
There are teams, however, that place major importance on the U.S. Open Cup – none more than the Seattle Sounders. This commitment led to the team winning the tournament in 2009, 2010, and 2011. After two years of failing to win the tournament, they regained the crown last season, defeating the Philadelphia Union in the final.
Why should MLS teams take this tournament so seriously? The winner of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is given one of the United States’ four spots in the CONCACAF Champions League. This gives a club the opportunity to face international opponents in high-level competition, and prove themselves as a regional power.
This is exactly why Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath has decided to attempt to win the Open Cup. “We've got to get into that (the Champions League) and that's why the Open Cup this year will be incredibly important to us,” Heath states. “I know all the directors at our football club talk about the same thing.”
As for teams that use young, unproven talent early only to play first team members in later rounds, Heath doesn’t believe in that. “In the beginning, the early rounds, people might not think it’s that important. It’s a bit like when you play the League Cup in England. In the beginning they put the kids out and when they get to the semifinal or quarterfinal then all of the sudden the final is at Wembley and you’ve got a chance of playing in Europe it becomes really important. I never understand that. It suddenly becomes important at the end but if you don’t take it important at the beginning – you won’t get to the end.”
On June 17, when the Lions travel to Charleston, South Carolina for their fourth round match-up with the Charleston Battery, there’s no doubt that Heath will be looking to win. It’s something he wants everyone around the Club to understand. “The one thing I want to make sure to everybody and impress on everybody is that we are going to make sure that we treat the Open Cup very importantly,” Heath stated earlier this week, “because I think it’s a great opportunity for us.”