San Antonio FC will take on Corinthians FC of San Antonio at Toyota Field on Wednesday, in the first ever U.S. Open Cup match for both teams. Many San Antonio FC fans are wondering what the U.S. Open Cup is, as the tournament has no parallel in American sports.
The most obvious comparison to the U.S. Open Cup is the FA (Football Association) Cup in England which has its final next Saturday. The U.S. Open Cup is open, as the name suggests, to any soccer teams in America to compete in, and potentially win the tournament. Professional teams not owned by another professional team, (i.e. The USL teams owned by MLS teams) are all entered automatically, while amateur teams go through a qualification process. In a more familiar analogy, if the same format existed in basketball it would allow a local recreational team to be eligible for a tournament that allowed them to take on the San Antonio Spurs.
The U.S. Open Cup has been in existence since 1914 and is named for Lamar Hunt, who was a major benefactor to U.S. Soccer until his death. That makes the U.S. Open Cup one of the oldest sporting tournaments in America, one of the oldest soccer tournaments in the world, and the oldest continually operating soccer knock-out competition in the world, as most European competitions were postponed during WWII.
The U.S. Open Cup is a single-elimination, knockout tournament, typically played on Wednesday nights, although the final has been played on weekends in the past. The teams play just one match, with a blind draw for who will host, and as every match needs a winner, there are no draws, meaning if the two sides are level after 90 minutes the match goes to two 15 minute extra-time halves before the infamous penalty shoot-out.
Given the vast discrepancy in the quality of U.S. Soccer teams, different division levels come in at different rounds of the competition. Amateur teams that have qualified enter in the first round, followed by United Soccer League teams, including San Antonio FC, in the second round. North American Soccer League teams enter the third round before Major League Soccer completes the draw in the fourth round.
While MLS teams have dominated this tournament since the league’s inception, there have been some notable upsets. The late San Antonio Scorpions managed a victory in 2012, as they upset Houston Dynamo in the third round of the tournament.
The Rochester Rhinos notably won the U.S. Open Cup in 1999, despite being in the second division. The Rhinos beat four MLS teams on the road to the title, and defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-0 in the cup final.
Though the Rhinos are one of the more note worthy tournament winners, the most phenomenal tournament upset occurred with the Dallas Roma in 2006. Dallas Roma, a local amateur league team in Dallas, eliminated the MLS team Chivas USA in a penalty shootout and became the first United States Adult Soccer Association team to defeat an MLS team.
San Antonio has been on the wrong end of several upsets, with all bar one of the Scorpions eliminations in the tournament coming to lower division teams. After beating Houston Dynamo in their first season, the joy quickly faded as they fell to the Charlotte Eagles of the USL in the fourth round.
The Scorpions were stunned a year later during their first round, and fell in the first ever U.S. Open Cup match at Toyota Field. The Scorpions fell to amateur team FC Tucson, of the Premier Development League, on penalties in a humbling loss.
After falling to a higher division team, FC Dallas, in 2014, the Scorpions were again eliminated by a lower division team in their final season. That was a Hill Country derby as they fell to the Austin Aztex, though whether that was a true upset is debatable as the gap between NASL (second division) and USL (third division) is fairly narrow.
This means that San Antonio FC should not take a win for granted on Wednesday. FC Tucson played at a similar level to Corinthians FC and still managed to get past the Scorpions. With no second chances in the tournament, any mistake could cost San Antonio FC dearly, and there have been plenty of defensive mistakes in recent weeks.
This is the first competitive match between the two sides but it is not the first Alamo Derby, as the two teams played each other in pre-season with San Antonio FC winning on that occasion 2-1 in an entertaining match. The Wednesday match will become a part of San Antonio Soccer history, as the first match for both teams in the U.S. Open Cup, and Corinthians FC SA becoming the first-ever amateur team from San Antonio to compete in the tournament.
Tickets for Wednesday’s match are available on Ticketmaster, and the kick-off starts at 7:30 p.m.
Disclosure: Author Chris Hockman works with Corinthians FC SA as media officer.
Top Image: San Antonio FC fans yell “San Antonio” at the start of the game on April 30, 2016. Photo by Michael Cirlos.