The Last Chapters Of The Modern US Open CupChicago knows it hosts the final, but only ifChicago knows it hosts the final, but only if they beat Philadelphia in the semis they beat Philadelphia in the semis
by Ray Marcham | Thursday, August 06, 2015
The final path, or paths, to the US Open Cup Final is now set, as the competition wraps up a year that has seen some change, and some of the same.
A draw was held Wednesday to determine the order in which the USOC Final host would be determined, with the final to be held on September 30. Four envelopes, containing cards of the four finalists, were shuffled & drawn into spots 1-4. The club that ended up at #1, Chicago Fire, is guaranteed to host the final if they defeat Philadelphia next week. Real Salt Lake would host is they defeat Sporting Kansas City and the Union knock of Chicago, while Philadelphia hosts if they win and SKC wins. Sporting has no chance of hosting the final.
This heightens the pressure on Chicago for a number of reasons. First, knowing that a win means hosting the Final adds to the urgency going into the match. They have to be careful, though, as Philadelphia can take advantage of that urgency. With the roller coaster season the Fire have had in 2015, that may be tough to expect.
History would also be on Chicago’s side if they got to host. The previous three times they hosted the final, they won. Those include two finals at Soldier Field (1998, 2000) and one at Toyota Park (2006). Their other Cup win came in 2003, when they defeated the New York-New Jersey MetroStars at Giants Stadium.
The Fire would also be going for a big part of US Open Cup/National Challenge Cup history if they make the final, as well. They would be trying to become the first MLS club to win the USOC five times, and would be trying to join Bethlehem Steel (1915-16, 1918-19, 1926) and Maccabi Los Angeles (1973, 1975, 1977-78, 1981) as the only clubs to win the competition on five occasions. That’s a massive part of American soccer history that the Fire is two wins away from being a part of.
And, if nothing else, this year’s edition of the US Open Cup might be seen down the line as a historical year in American soccer. With the number of changes, and controversy, that have taken place this year, and with what is coming for the 2016 tourney, 2015 may be seen as a transition year for the event. In that sense, history was made all year long.
The main phase of the Cup was the biggest it has ever been, with 91 clubs taking part in nine rounds. With expansion in the three pro leagues (MLS, NASL, USL) and more clubs added from the main amateur leagues and organizations (PDL, NPSL, USASA, USSSA, US Club Soccer), the road to the final was longer, but gave more teams a chance to go farther into the tourney and go towards the $15,000 that US Soccer gave to each team who were the last at their level or league to still be in.
The greater focus on regional formats also brought an extra level of excitement. The New York Cosmos finally got to play a derby against the New York Red Bulls after defeating New York City FC. SKC hosted St. Louis FC, Colorado hosted Colorado Springs, San Jose & Sacramento faced off, Oklahoma City and Dallas added a new sport to their rivalry…while MLS came out on top in almost all of those matches, the level of enthusiasm was as high as could be hoped. Even Seattle-Portland added another fascinating chapter to their Cascadia rivalry, with a match that has ramifications for weeks on numerous fronts.
Of course, there was controversy about that Sounders-Timbers match well before they took to the worn turf at Starfire Stadium. That they were even matched up raised many eyebrows, as the new format dictated that two MLS clubs would have to meet in the fourth round. While the conspiracy theorists were likely wrong that it was purposely set up that way, the positive result was that US Soccer finally started showing the USOC draws live on their YouTube channel. At long last, we could see how the draws were coming together as they were happening, as opposed to hearing about it well after the draw took place.
More changes are coming in 2016, and not just because the NASL and USL are both expanding again. US Soccer is taking over scheduling and organization of amateur qualifying for the first time, with a single set of rules for clubs in the USASA, USSSA and US Cub Soccer to follow (the PDL and NPSL will continue qualify clubs based on season results). Any amateur club that wants to play in the 2016 US Open Cup had to register by August 3, with the preliminary list of applicants to be announced on August 10. Rosters for fall qualifying for next year’s USOC will need to be in two weeks after that, and the fall qualifying schedule starts in September. That means we’ll know most of who is playing in next year’s tourney very soon.
Which means the tale of the 2016 US Open Cup will start to be written before the final chapter of the 2015 USOC is finished. And there are two chapters yet to be written, with the semifinals next Wednesday and the final on the last day of September. We know the settings for the semis, but where the final takes place, we wait to see.
For the Chicago Fire, a win on Wednesday means they get to write that final chapter at home. And they can create the history they want to make.