Orlando City’s U.S. Open Cup journey begins on Wednesday, so let’s look at five reasons why a tournament championship would mean so much.
- CONCACAF Champions League Automatic Qualifier
The winner of the tournament automatically earns the right to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League. Most recently, Seattle Sounders FC won the tournament after defeating the Philadelphia Union in extra time. The automatic qualifier is so important because the only other ways for American clubs to qualify for the Champions League is to win the Supporter’s Shield or win the MLS Cup. Since 2014, the second-place (or next highest American club) team in the Supporter’s Shield race also qualifies.
- It’s the third-longest running national tournament in the world
Soccer in the United States doesn’t have the same history as other countries around the world, but it can claim the third-oldest continuously running national tournament. The first U.S. Open Cup, then called the National Challenge Cup, was played in 1914 and has continued every year since. England’s FA Cup is the oldest association tournament in the world, beginning play in 1871.
- The Magic of the Cup
It’s not often that lower division teams get a chance to knock off one of the big dogs of American soccer. MLS teams enter in the fourth round of the tournament and every year the 16 remaining NASL, USL, and amateur clubs get a shot. In 2014, four MLS clubs were knocked out in the fourth round, and two NASL clubs made it all the way to the quarterfinals. The only non-MLS club to win the tournament since MLS teams began competing in 1996 was the 1999 Rochester Rhinos of the A-League (2nd division). In 2013, Orlando City, still in the USL, defeated the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City to advance to the quarterfinals.
- Adding to the Trophy Case
No competition would be complete without a trophy, and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup offers quite the piece of hardware. The Sir Thomas Dewar Cup was first awarded in 1914 to Brooklyn Field Club after they defeated Brooklyn Celtic, 2-1. Bethlehem Steel FC and Maccabi Los Angeles have hoisted the Dewar Cup five times, the most of any clubs. More recently, the Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders have each won the trophy four times.
- Prize Money
As if an automatic qualifier and trophy weren’t enough motivation, the top performing clubs also receive a hefty sum of prize money. The winner of the tournament receives $250,000. The top performing team from each lower division receives $15,000.
Past MLS clubs have been criticized for not taking the tournament as seriously as they should. That won’t be the case for Orlando City, though. Head coach Adrian Heath has said, “If you don’t take it seriously at the beginning, you won’t get to the end.”
“We’ve got to get into that (Champions League) and that’s why the Open Cup this year will be incredibly important to us.”