It is the kind of special endeavor unique to soccer in the United States – the U.S. Open Cup. It goes by other names in other places, but here is the opportunity for even the most casual of player, for the amateur, and lower-level soccer players and teams to gain fame and notoriety. Perhaps there is no other sport in the world that invites even the amateurs and lesser ranked opponent to take on the professionals. Here are the real-life encounters of the Joes vs. the Pros and, tonight, the Joes came away with much of the spoils.
Of the 14 U.S. Open Cup matches played tonight, at least 7 teams from lower divisions of competitive soccer in the U.S. upset the Major League Soccer side. Click here for a scoreboard. Teams like the Dayton Dutch Lions and the Charlotte Eagles, where player salaries are considerably less than their MLS counterparts, are tasting victory over the larger, flashier clubs like the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas. Here are the fields where dreams are made as the U.S. Open Cup awards in the past have been $100k – a decent sum for even some MLS teams, but greater is the opportunity that it represents as MLS sides get a chance to see lower-league talent and sometimes make an offer or invite a player into a better contract.
So why the upsets? Is the professional levels of soccer really not that far apart? Not necessarily – many MLS teams use the U.S. Open Cup as an opportunity to let reserve players play and get an opportunity to prove themselves and grow in experience. Especially in the earlier rounds (MLS teams enter in round 3), there are greater chances for the upset to occur as MLS reservists may not have the match fitness and prowess that comes from playing in weekly competitive matches. Additionally, with so much at stake, the players from USL Pro, NASL, and PDL (lower divisions of soccer) are looking to make a name for themselves and be the next giant-killer.