skip navigation

Learning About the U.S. Open Cup

By Jack Harris, 05/17/17, 1:00PM MST


After navigating their way to a 3-3-0 start in USL league play, Phoenix Rising FC will switch their focus to another competition this week, when they take on the Fresno Fuego in the second round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

The US Open Cup is the country’s 
longest running soccer competition, dating back to 1914 when Brooklyn Field Club won the first edition. Since then, the knockout competition has withstood the ever-changing landscape of American soccer, giving teams from all levels of the game a chance to compete for national glory.

Originally known as the National Challenge Cup, the competition catered to northern-based clubs in its early days, seeing teams like Bethlehem Steel and the New York Americans win multiple titles during the first half of the twentieth century.

Over time, western teams such as Maccabi Los Angeles began to find success in the competition as well. Maccabi and Bethlehem are the most successful Open Cup teams, each with five titles to their name.

Since the inception of Major League Soccer, however, teams from the nation’s top league have dominated. The Rochester Rhinos, who shocked the Colorado Rapids in a 2-0 win in the 1999 U.S. Open Cup Final, is the only non-MLS club to win the competition since the league was formed.

The last time a lower league team reached the final was in 2008, when the USL’s Charleston Battery lost to MLS’s DC United at RFK Stadium.

No team from Arizona has ever won the competition.

After undergoing several format changes during the past decade, the 2017 US Open Cup will include its biggest field of teams ever; 99 teams from 30 states entered the competition, coming from MLS all the way down to local amateur teams.

This year, 17 local qualifiers reached the proper stages of the tournament, entering in the first round along with teams from the National Premier Soccer League and the Premier Development League (the league Phoenix Rising FC’s opponent, Fresno Fuego, currently play in).

Phoenix Rising FC enter the tournament in the second round, as do all USL and NASL teams. MLS clubs join the fray in the fourth round.

To cut down on travel for teams and fans, the bracket is divided by regions, ensuring teams will be drawn against other clubs from their region. With the exception of these regional limitations, each round of games is drawn at random, with host sites being determined by coin flips.

Clubs owned and operated by MLS teams, such as Sounders FC 2, Timbers FC 2,  Swope Park Rangers or Real Monarchs, are no longer eligible to participate in the Cup. But MLS-affiliated teams or U23 squads can participate.

There are eight total rounds of competition, culminating in the US Open Cup Final in September. Since 2000, the final has been held at the home site of one of the finalists.

The club’s deepest U.S. Open Cup run came in their 2014 tournament debut (as Arizona United Soccer Club), culminating in a fourth round loss to MLS side LA Galaxy.

The team needed a dramatic comeback against the Portland Timbers U23 squad in the second round that year, when they scored three times in the game’s final six minutes to reverse a two goal defecit, and secure a 3-2 win at Providence Park.

The third round saw the team play their first-ever Open Cup game on home soil against Oklahoma City Energy FC. In another closely contested victory, the club needed a Bradlee Baladez extra time goal to clinch a 2-1 victory.

The fourth round draw matched the club against the eventual 2014 MLS Cup Champion LA Galaxy in Peoria. Despite the divisional gap between the teams, the club led at halftime, thanks to a Matt Kassel strike in the 36th minute. But, future US men’s international forward Gyasi Zardes tallied two goals in three minutes early in the second half to send the Galaxy to a 2-1 victory.

Recent forays into the third-oldest cup competition in the world have ended earlier for Rising FC. In 2015, the club was knocked out in the second round by USASA qualifiers Chula Vista FC in Scottsdale.

Last year, the club won an Arizona derby in the second round, thumping FC Tucson 5-0 at the Kino North Stadium, before bowing out in the third round in a 3-0 home loss to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks.