Everyone has a giant that’s standing in their way. How will you approach it when the inevitable, inequitable meeting takes place? Will you attack without restraint, knowing you have nothing to lose and everything to prove? Or will you bunker in, waiting for that one opportune moment to let loose the fatal blow? Both approaches have led to the birth of legends, and that’s the true appeal of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The US Open Cup, which first began in 1913 as the National Challenge Cup, is the longest-running tournament in America. With a tournament structure similar to the FA Cup, or on this side of the pond, March Madness, the summer competition is one of the can’t-miss sporting events of the summer where the winner moves on and the loser goes home. A tournament-record 99 teams are slated to compete in the 104th edition of the Open Cup in 2017, and the USL enters the fray this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.
When Sacramento opens up USOC competition against FC Anahuac on Wednesday, they’ll be playing for more than just pride and a chance to become legends. The winner of the US Open Cup takes home a cool $250,000, while the runner-up earns $60,000. Additionally, the winner automatically qualifies for the CONCACAF Champions League.
However, no USL team has lifted the cup since 1999 when the Rochester Rhinos fought through four MLS teams to become the only lower division side to when the USOC in the modern era (1999-present). And while no lower division side has made it to the championship tilt since the Charleston Battery in 2008 when they fell, 2-1, to DC United, there is still a cash prize ($15,000) for the team that advances the furthest among each lower division.
Historically, Sacramento has done very well in the Open Cup, despite bowing out last season to Premier Development League outfit Kitsap Pumas, 3-1, at Bonney Field. It was the first time in the club’s history that the Republic has failed to reach the US Open Cup Fourth Round, and it was the first time the team has failed to score at least two goals against an amateur opponent in the competition.
Sacramento is 3-0-0 all-time in the US Open Cup Second Round, outscoring opponents 11-3. Last year, Sacramento enjoyed a five-goal outing in route to a 5-0 drubbing of CD Aguiluchos USA of the National Premier Soccer League. Another similar outing against Anahuac could be just the tonic for a goal-starved Republic team that has failed to find the back of the net in six matches.
FC Anahuac, reigning champions of the United Premier Soccer League, is the first amateur team to enter the US Open Cup from Nevada in the modern era of US soccer. In a fairly interesting path to reaching the tournament proper, Anahuac won their First Round Qualifying Match via forfeit before taking on MF 10. Leading at half, 2-0, against an 8-man MF 10, the match was called off in the second half after MF 10 lost another player to injury and had another sent off.
In the First Round last week, Anahuac dropped Sonoma County Sol FC, 1-1 (5-4 PK). After remaining scoreless through 90, Sonoma struck first in the 100th minute before Anahuac leveled in the 106th minute. Penalties were the decider, and Anahuac earned the right to face Sacramento.
A pillow fight may be on the cards Wednesday, as the two clubs have combined to go 0-8-1 in their last nine outings while scoring four combined goals and allowing 14 in that same span. However, a player to keep an eye on for Anahuac is Ramon Maldonado, a midfielder who recently competed for Mexico at the 2017 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup and scored three goals in the competition. Conversely, this match may be just the tonic for Sacramento as the amateur side has allowed nine goals in their last three matches.
First kick is slated for 7:30 p.m. PDT on Wednesday from Papa Murphy’s Park. With a win, the Republic will either host Reno 1868 in the Third Round or travel to Tukwila, Washington, to face OSA FC.