Peter Wilt has looked at life, and soccer, from both sides now.
As president and general manager of the Chicago Fire in the late 1990s and early 2000s, his MLS team was always one of the alpha clubs in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, winning the tournament three times during his tenure. This spring, in a similar executive capacity with fledgling Forward Madison F.C., Wilt’s Wisconsin side is the last USL League 1 team left in the brackets, the confident underdog.
Wilt is actually enjoying this ride a bit more. “It’s so cool for David to go up against Goliath,” he said. “It’s more fun to punch up than punch down.”
(Fans at Breese Stadium are still waiting for the Open Cup coin to flip their way)
Forward Madison – known more familiarly and ironically as the Flamingos – already managed a couple of early, road knockouts. They eliminated the 2018 national amateur champion Bavarians SC (Milwaukee, Wisc.) in the First Round and then, impressively, stepped up in class to defeat full pros El Paso Locomotive of the USL Championship (3-0).On Wednesday, May 29, Madison head to historic St. Louis Soccer Park to face St. Louis FC, another USL Championship side. And if the Flamingos win that one, then it will be another preseason target reached.
Last Team Standing
“One of our goals this year was to be the last League 1 team standing, and we did that,” said Forward Madison head coach Daryl Shore, who was an assistant coach with the Fire during Wilt’s years there. “We also wanted to be the only League 1 team to play an MLS team, which would happen in the next round. Then the rest will be gravy.”
Nunez’s performances are being noticed in some high places – which was the whole idea when he signed with Madison.“When he nutmegged two players and then back-passed by another, that highlight was on Bleacher Report,” Wilt said. “For Josiel, this is a platform hopefully that will lead to MLS. He’s 26, and the window is closing. But we’re fortunate to have him.”
A First for Madison
In their first season of existence, the Flamingos are the first-ever professional club of any kind in Madison, in any sport. This is, after all, the ultimate college town; home to the University of Wisconsin and its many Big Ten teams. So far, the city has welcomed Forward Madison with open arms and checkbooks too.
The city’s governors spent about $3 million to upgrade historic Breese Stevens Field, increasing capacity from 3,000 to 5,000. Other improvements included suites, a supporter standing section and a rooftop hospitality area under a canopy roof dating back to 1926.
“It’s an old stadium that has new life,” Wilt said of the former home of baseball’s pre-World War II Madison Blues. “Satchel Paige pitched here. Jesse Owens ran here.”
(Head coach Daryl Shore was once an assistant at MLS's Chicago Fire)
Fans have come in flocks. In fact, that’s what they call themselves, the Flock. It is all a play on that flamingos nickname, which requires considerable context.
Madison is a city known for its unique sense of humor, which is part of the story. The Onion, the satirical magazine and website, started here. Kentucky Fried Theater flourished in Madison, founded by the Zucker brothers who would create the such classic films as Airplane and the Naked Gun series.
Flamingo Mystery Solved
Back in 1978, the self-mocking Pail and Shovel Party was elected to the Wisconsin Student Association, promising to convert the organization’s funds into coins and to place them in pails for students to pillage. Instead, the party erected a replica Statue of Liberty in Lake Mendota and placed thousands of plastic flamingos on the campus’s Bascom Hill.
The flamingos were soon relocated all over the town and Madison’s “official bird” later became the plastic flamingo, by city ordinance. Local owners of the new pro soccer club named the club “Forward,” which is the Wisconsin state motto, but were wise enough to take advantage of the municipality’s playful reputation. The team’s crest includes a curled-up flamingo. The team’s colors are pink and two shades of blue. The pastels make you think the club is playing in Miami, not in famously frigid Madison.
(Forward Madison players after the big win in El Paso in the Second Round of the 2019 USOC)
Forward Madison is a partial affiliate of Minnesota United of MLS, at least during its first year in operation, which can lead to potentially awkward situations. Minnesota may send down a player and expect him to get match time, only to have Wilt and Shore feel otherwise. The Flamingos can’t use any of the Minnesota roster players in Cup matches, which disqualifies three starters. Then there is the real potential that Madison may next play Minnesota in the tournament, if the Flamingos win their Third-Round game.
First, there is a trip to St. Louis. The two sides played each other this season in an early exhibition match. Saint Louis FC won 1-0 in a competitive contest. Madison keeps losing the coin flips that determine the home team in each round of Open Cup play, which means another trip, this time to St. Louis. This is their third straight heads-or-tails, home-or-away defeat, which represents an unlucky 1-in-8 statistical chance.
“I’d like to get a look at the coin they’re using,” Shore said with a chuckle.
(Club president Peter Wilt - left - and the ubiquitous Forward Madison flamingo logo)
Wilt offers a different solution. He’d like to see the lower-seeded club host every round of the U.S. Open Cup. “There’s some logic to that,” Wilt said. “The Cup game is more likely to be a big deal for the fan base of the lower-seeded clubs, and those teams are less able to afford the travel.”
The travel experience to El Paso turned out to be particularly difficult in the previous round, because players were booked on three separate flights with three different arrival times. The Flamingos nonetheless prevailed with patient, counter-attacking tactics for a three-goal win that looked more one-sided on the scoreboard than on the field.
With that victory, Madison won the $25,000 prize that goes to the club from each lower division that advances farthest in the tournament. The players already have bonuses built into their contracts for Cup victories. They’ll likely get more now, although their coach has a very Madisonian idea about what to do with the $25K.
“That money can buy a lot of plastic flamingos,” Shore said.
Last December, Dave Sarachan was about to be presented as head coach of North Carolina FC when someone noticed the backdrop included a banner showing his former team, the LA Galaxy, being upset in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“They asked me if they should take it down,” Sarachan recalled recently. “I said, ‘No, keep it up. It’s a good reminder’.”
(Sarachan took over at NCFC at the start of the current season)
Sarachan knows the ups and downs of the U.S. Open Cup, having hoisted the trophy as a champion with the Chicago Fire in 2003 and ’06, as well as having been an upset victim. In fact, the Carolina RailHawks, forerunners to today’s NCFC, took down the Galaxy three times while Sarachan was an assistant to Bruce Arena – including a year in which the Galaxy were champions of Major League Soccer.
“They made us travel to Raleigh to play three times,” Sarachan recalled. “They were a bogey team for us. We couldn’t get over the hump.”
Back in the Open Cup
Now, after a 22-year stint that included stops throughout MLS and the U.S. Men’s National Team, Sarachan is coaching North Carolina FC in the USL Championship (the cdountry’s professional second division league) and preparing for an Open Cup contest against lively amateur side Florida Soccer Soldiers on Wednesday, May 29 at Koka Booth (Field 2) at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. (7 p.m. ET).
Sarachan made the subject of Cupsets part of preparations for North Carolina’s 4-1 Second Round win over the Richmond Kickers last week. “I said to my team, this is why the tournament is so great and we always root for them,” Sarachan said of the Cup’s underdogs. “Except when we play them.”
(Sarachan - 2nd from left - with past legends of Chicago Fire & D.C. United)
“The message when we played Richmond was you can’t assume anything, whether it’s the best in MLS or an amateur team you’re playing,” Sarachan went on. “You can lose any time if your mentality is not right on the field. And the message won’t change [for the Soccer Soldiers] – they’ve beaten two good opponents on the road. They’re playing with house money. They have some high school guys, some semipro guys, they’re well-coached and they have some ability.”
Sarachan experienced immediate success as a coach in the Open Cup. In his first season as Fire head coach, the team swept to the Open Cup title, taking a 1-0 win over the then-NY/NJ MetroStars at Giants Stadium on Oct. 15, 2003.
“I met with the leaders of the team – Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin – all the senior guys, and they all wanted to win the Open Cup,” Sarachan said. “Their philosophy aligned with mine. We wanted to win the MLS Cup but any time you have a chance to win a trophy you have to put everything into that. The mentality was excellent during those runs. Everything is compounded, with regular-season MLS scheduling, crazy travel. So, it’s MLS on weekend, Open Cup midweek, juggling lineups and figuring out how not to compromise – it’s challenging.”
.@NorthCarolinaFC sent a stern message to the rest of the 2019 Open Cup field, hammering @RichmondKickers to the tune of 4-1 to reach the 3rd Round.— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 16, 2019
📺 Highlights | #USOC2019 pic.twitter.com/64zD8V38dy
The Fire’s history with the Open Cup dates to the team’s first season, when they won the MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup double. Chicago also captured the 2000 Open Cup. “First of all they appreciated the tournament and what the Open Cup really means,” Sarachan said. “A number of guys had played in it and by winning the trophy in a [tournament] that included way more than MLS teams, that meant a lot.”
Chicago ‘03 Dream Team
“So there was a lot on the line other than the soccer,” Sarachan recalled of the ’03 final. “It was a terrific, a really good game, despite being later in the year, and guys were weary. It wasn’t easy to play the Final there, it was on turf and a little cold, and that made it tricky. We had an experienced group of guys and each man was really competitive – Carlos Bocanegra, DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov, Evan Whitfield. Damani Ralph scored the goal and we just played well and got the clean sheet. Chris Armas was the best leader I’ve ever managed.
“At the ceremony, [former U.S. Soccer president] Sunil Gulati gave us the medals and it was a precursor to the MLS Cup final,” added Sarachan. “We didn’t win that but we did get the Supporters Shield.”
The meaning of the Open Cup to the Fire players hit home again with Sarachan after the season. “We had a banquet to kick off 2004, and word was that we were not getting Open Cup rings,” Sarachan said. “Chris Armas was our captain, and he went crazy. He said: ‘Wait a minute, what are you talking about?’ He made sure ownership knew why we did it.”
(The 2003 Chicago Fire with the old Dewar Cup trophy - brought back out of retirement that year)
The Fire lost the ’04 Final, 1-0, to the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) as Igor Simuntenkov scored a 95th-minute golden goal at Arrowhead Stadium.
Two years later, the Fire returned to the Final, this time taking a 3-1 victory over the Galaxy in Bridgeview, Ill., on Sept. 27, 2006. “Armas had been suspended, he got a second yellow against D.C., for nothing,” Sarachan recalls. “He was crying because that meant he would miss the final.”
But the Fire started strong, Nate Jaqua (10th minute) and Andy Herron (16th) opened the scoring. The Galaxy’s Alan Gordon cut the deficit in the 51st minute and Thiago rounded out the scoresheet via a Tony Sanneh assist in the 88th minute.
“There’s always a guy or two that emerges, for whatever reason, in the tournament,” Sarachan said. “In ’03 we had Dipsy Selolwane. Then, we had Andy Herron, and in year two he was on fire.”
(Sarachan in his days at LA Galaxy, where MLS Cups were plentiful but not Open Cups)
But that would be it for Sarachan’s career as a head coach in the U.S. Open Cup. He had compiled a 14-2-1 record in the century-old tournament, but was dismissed by the Fire with the team in fifth place in the Eastern Conference in June of 2007.
Sarachan went to the Galaxy in 2008 and a rapid rebuilding project resulted in MLS Cup titles in 2011, ’12 and ’14, but Open Cup success has eluded Sarachan since ’06.
No Cup Luck in LA
In 2012, the Galaxy were in the midst of capturing successive MLS Cups when they visited the RailHawks for a Third-Round game in Cary, N.C. And the Galaxy took the lead on Pat Noonan’s 38th-minute goal. But Tiyi Shipalane equalized (75th) and Brian Shriver decided the match, heading home a Shipalane cross in the 88th minute.
The next year, current North Carolina captain Austin da Luz and Shriver converted in a 2-0 win over the Galaxy in another Third-Round match.
(Sarachan during his days in charge of the U.S. Men's National Team)
The teams met in the Fifth Round in 2014. The RailHawks blanked a forward line consisting of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes, then took the lead on Danny Jackson’s 105th-minute goal. The RailHawks went on to lose 5-2 to FC Dallas in the Quarterfinals and finish fifth in the NASL standings that year. The Galaxy, meanwhile, ended up second in MLS’ regular season and went on to lift MLS Cup for a fifth time.
“There are upsets every year – semipro teams win,” Sarachan said, looking back in order to look ahead at his latest tilt at the Open Cup. “And that’s the other thing. As a coach you try and explain to guys and they’re like ‘whatever, yeah …’ Until you get a bit of a scare.”Read more
When Jay Heaps was playing for the Miami Fusion and Tom Soehn for the Chicago Fire in the 2000 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, they could not have predicted they would be teaming up to prepare for the tournament in Birmingham, Alabama 19 years later.
Now, Heaps is president of the Birmingham Legion and Soehn the team’s head coach. And they are hoping their first-year team can continue their winning start in one of sport’s longest-running tournaments, after beating lively amateurs West Chester United Predators 4-1 in the Second Round of the U.S. Open Cup last week.
(Heaps was an Open Cup winner as a player before losing a Final as coach of the NE Revolution)
“We talk about the history of it,” Heaps said of the Open Cup. “You love the fact that if you win, you know you’ll be there forever.”
Heaps won the 2007 Cup as a starting defender for the New England Revolution (current Legion assistant coach Khano Smith played in midfield), a 3-2 decision over FC Dallas. As a coach, Heaps guided the Revolution to the 2016 finals, with Soehn as his top assistant, but this time, FC Dallas exacted revenge with a 4-2 win.
Winner as Player & Coach
Soehn can go Heaps one or two better, though, as he is among the few who have won the event as a player and coach: he was a member of title teams with the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) in 1997 and the Fire in 2000, and guided D.C. United to the ’09 title.
“I mean, to be honest, Jay was quite the competitor, he was one of those guys you loved to beat,” Soehn recalled. “So, if you asked me if we would be working together I would have said ‘no chance’. But when you meet him off the field, he is a great guy. We formed a bond and we see the game through the same lens, what we liked in a team, what makes a team. We clicked from the get-go and we’ve worked together for quite some time.”
(Heaps & Soehn have put together a Legion team with a number of former MLS players)
Soehn’s history with the Open Cup dates to when his father, Joseph, born in Romania of German descent, competed for the Chicago Kickers. “When I was growing up, the Chicago area had unbelievable teams and I’d be watching great soccer on the weekends,” Soehn said. “I grew up playing for the Kickers and the soccer club was my home. Their clubhouse was full of trophies back in the day.”
Soehn was a starting defender for the Dallas Burn team that won the U.S. Open Cup the first year MLS teams entered the competition, taking a penalty shootout victory over D.C. United. “It was a big deal for us,” Soehn said. “We were a league-owned team and we played D.C. United in the final, and at that point they were a perennial champion. And to be able to beat them in the final, which was played after the MLS Cup, so it was kind of the final game of the year, it was really cool.”
In 2000, Soehn came on as an 86th-minute substitute in a 2-1 victory over the Fusion at Soldier Field in Chicago. Hristo Stoitchkov’s 44th-minute goal opened the scoring and an 88th-minute Tyrone Marshall own-goal gave the Fire a 2-0 advantage before Welton cut the deficit in the 90th minute. Heaps was at right-back and current Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando started for then-coach Ray Hudson’s Fusion.
Cup Ups & Downs
The next year, Heaps was part of a mid-season trade to the Revolution, who were on the way to early elimination from MLS playoff contention. But the Revs proved to be a Cup contender, defeating the Columbus Crew in the quarterfinals and D.C. United in the semifinals on the way to a title date with the Galaxy. The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks caused MLS to cancel games, and by the time the playoffs concluded with the Galaxy as MLS Cup champions, it was late October. The Revolution had not played a meaningful game since late August, so they were plenty rested and hoped to catch the Galaxy off guard in the Open Cup final on Oct. 27, 2001. But the Revolution lacked sharpness in the second half, squandered the lead, and lost, 2-1, on Danny Califf’s 92nd-minute golden goal at Titan Stadium in Fullerton, Calif.
By 2008, Soehn was coaching D.C. United, and he guided the Red & Black to a 2-1 win over the Charleston Battery in the Cup final at RFK Stadium. “There are different rewards when you’re playing,” Soehn said. “Obviously, you get the feeling of enjoyment because you’re on the field participating. As a coach, so much more work goes into it, you don’t realize it when you’re a player. I had been assistant coach in Chicago when we won it [in 2003] and it is a totally different reward for winning [as a coach].
(Heaps - standing, in white - in the 2007 Open Cup Final against FC Dallas)
“Bringing it up makes me reflect on it a little bit,” Soehn went on. “I’ve had really good experiences in the game, some you take for granted. But being with my peers and all the conversation, all the good times, I’m just thankful the game’s been really good to me.”
United’s ’08 campaign included a 3-1 Semifinal victory over a Revolution team that included Heaps. But Heaps was not in the lineup – he went out a winner, his final Open Cup match a 3-2 victory over FC Dallas in the 2007 final in Frisco, Texas.
“That was one of the strangest things because we had lost in that very stadium,” Heaps said of Revolution defeats in the 2005 and ’06 MLS Cup. “I had missed a penalty kick the year before and we were so close so many times. And with the U.S. Open Cup we got over the hump. We had lost two finals and there was no way we were going to lose this game.”
A Different Approach
Though the Legion leaders have plenty of experience in Cup play, they are approaching the competition differently this time. They started out as favorites, survived, and should now be considered underdogs on the road in the Third Round up against back-to-back and reigning USL Championship toppers Louisville City.
“This is the first time we are entering this early,” Heaps said. “So you’re playing different types of teams. This is a difficult time for us because of injuries and also loan players are going back to their clubs, plus we can’t cup-tie our loan guys. So, we’re a little thin.”
That's the end of a long road for spirited amateurs @WCUSCPredators, who bow out after losing 4-1 to pro side @bhmlegion in Alabama (Opoku added a late one). The winners move on to meet @USLChampionship champs @loucityfc in the Third Round.#USOC2019 🏆 pic.twitter.com/QGmbDyf6bn— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 16, 2019
Thick or thin, the Legion — mid-table in USL league play for most of the season, so far — have an opportunity to build some crucial support, momentum and excitement via the Open Cup. A good long Cup run can paper over a lot of cracks, and make history – even for a first-year club.
In any case, the Legion’s leaders are about to write another chapter in the long and storied history of the Open Cup. “It’s crazy,” Soehn said. “My father played in [the Open Cup] back then. A bunch of immigrants came over, some of them had played professional soccer in Germany, but there was nothing here so they played on amateur teams. I love to see what it’s turned into and it’s kept growing.”
[Lead Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe]Read more
Mike Anhaeuser’s been with the Charleston Battery for all 25 years of the club’s life – and he’s forgotten more about the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup than most will ever know. ussoccer.com had the pleasure of sitting down for an animated, all-encompassing chat with the last coach to lead a non-Major League Soccer (MLS) team to the tournament Final. Among the topics open for discussion were that glorious run of 2008 and why it was “amazing and great and disappointing”, what the Open Cup means in Charleston, why hunger matters and why he thinks the time is right for a winner to come from below the top-tier for the first time in 20 years.
Michael Anhaeuser: From back when I was playing [he was a midfielder with the club for three seasons before taking over as coach in 1999], from the beginning of the Charleston Battery 26 years ago in 1993, the Open Cup was something really high on the list. We wanted to compete for the title, not just make runs. It was our goal from the beginning to really go on and win it.
(Anhaeuser was intense in his playing days for the Battery after earning All-American honors at Indiana)
You can’t talk about the Battery and the Open Cup without talking about 2008, when you guys went all the way to the Final.
MA: That year showcased and enforced the Cup as something really important at the club. We put a lot of onus on winning it. We had Lazo Alavanja [a former collegiate star at Indiana University, like Anhaeuser], Osvaldo Alonso [who went on to become a ten-year MLS vet with Seattle Sounders], Ian Fuller [Minnesota United assistant coach], Marco Reda [Canada international] and Randy Patterson [of New York Red Bulls and Trinidad & Tobago]. We had experienced guys. We had about five or six guys in the team that just had that pure winning mentality. You can’t overestimate what that means. It didn’t matter who we played against, they had the quality to compete and to win on the day. But we had the quality back then too. Oh yes we did.
Is it harder these days for a non-MLS team to make a deep run in the Cup?
MA: It was easier back then because you were probably only going to have to get past two, or maybe three, MLS teams. But now it’s more like four or five. It keeps getting harder and harder. We try to keep it at the same level here at the Battery and strive for success. I play a lot of my starters in the early rounds; not everyone does that. In the old days, MLS teams didn’t want a home game, so we got to play a lot at home. But it’s not like that any more. It’s another edge lost; it makes it that much harder
Is it tough to find a balance between league play and Cup play with a USL Championship team?
MA: Is it hard to find a balance? Yeah, definitely. When you have a smaller roster like we do it’s not ever easy to find the balance [laughs]. You’ve got games coming at you all the time. Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday. You’re burning all the time. It’s nice to get a break, but it doesn’t always come and you have to find the balance between using some young guys and really pushing, really leaning, on your experienced players. If you pick up an injury – which happens when you’re playing a lot of games – then you’re scrambling. Then you have to shuffle your pack and improvise.
(Anhaeuser's been with the Battery for 25 years - that's as long as there's been a Battery)
Was there much scrambling and shuffling in 2008?
MA: I was playing starters in the Cup from the beginning, putting a focus on it. I’d bring in new guys for the league games sometimes, rookies and guys without too much experience. You needed them, and you might lose some of those league games, but you have to prioritize in years like that. Those are special times and you have to recognize it. We had a lot of home games in 2008 [Just two of their six games were on the road that year]. That helps
With a goal in stoppage time @Chas_Battery takes the 2-1 victory over @GVLTriumph and will move on to face @Tormenta_FC or @NashvilleSC!⚽— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 16, 2019
2-1 CHS | Final | #USOC2019
📺 Highlights ⤵ pic.twitter.com/qmGKAqRCoX
Does succeeding in the Open Cup require a special intensity?
MA: I compare it to the NCAA [basketball] tournament. I think it’s like that in a lot of ways. It has the same feeling and the same intensity. It’s one-and-done. I’m a big fan of this. That format brings out something special. You need luck, sure, and a bit of quality on the day. We won many games on penalties in 2008. We beat Seattle in a shootout. You need all those things to fall into place, but it’s no different than Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA tournament a couple years ago. You have those guys people don’t know about and that’s important – you need those hungry guys trying to go higher.
(Charleston's run to the 2008 Open Cup Final was the last time a non-MLS team went that far)
Do your players today understand the meaning of those successes ten years ago?
MA: It’s helped us here that we’ve had success in the Cup. It gets in their belly. I can show them what it’s like and that it can be done. They know it when they’re here. But all of that just helps a little – what’s really important is that we have to go out there and win now. That’s what really matters. The past and the tradition, that just helps us a little before the opening whistle.
It’s obvious that the Open Cup has special meaning for you.
MA: It’s not just me. For our club, the Open Cup is huge. I say that before the first game to my guys, “If you win this, you’re playing an MLS team.” It’s the first statement I make and I make sure my players know what I’m saying. I believed it as a player and I believe it as a coach: all players want to play the best. That’s a given. And MLS aren’t just throwing out reserve teams in the Cup. It’s changing and evolving. The Open Cup has taken two steps forward. The prize money is up – it’s 300,000 now to the winner and that’s a bump. One more sponsor here or there and it could be huge in American sports.
You mentioned being hungry. How important is that in the Cup, as a team and as individuals?
MA: You won’t get anything out of that unless you're hungry. Having guys who are hungry to show what they can do and to take the next step is huge. You’re putting yourself in the shop window in a big way as a player. It makes a big difference if a coach sees you first-hand instead of on tape – a massive difference.
(A well of enthusiasm and soccer knowledge, Anhaeuser still gets involved in the nitty-gritty of training)
That’s what happened with Osvaldo Sanchez, who was so impressive with Charleston and ended up signing with Seattle after you beat them in 2008.
MA: Yeah, exactly. Our 2008 run was just the start for him and look what he’s gone on to achieve. We played in Seattle and we pushed them and beat them, and they signed him up just like that. You get seen in the Open Cup. It gives those guys a chance, so you have to be hungry because you don’t want to miss a chance.
The Battery has been around for 25 years – first in the USISL, then the USISL Pro League and now in the United Soccer League (USL). How has the club changed in those years?
MA: I treat the club the same way I did in my first year here. We were the Battery then and we’re the Battery now. We’re the same as we ever were as far as I’m concerned. We have the club and the history and things are expected of us here. People didn’t know us back then and then we had a little success and people wondered if we could carry it on. But now we have a lot of years behind us and we have a tradition.
How much of that tradition is connected to the Open Cup?
MA: A lot of it is connected to the Open Cup. It’s something special for us and for our players. Whether they’re rookies, or guys on loan from MLS, or our veterans. We’ve been there as a club. We have a chance to win it. I truly believe this and I try to pass it on every year. You have to believe it. You win and you move on. We have that always on our minds. Five games or something like that and you’re in the Final. Not in front of 4,000 people like it was in the past, but now you’re in front of 40,000 people maybe. That’s a big difference. We’re carrying on a tradition here and we don’t want to lose sight of that. We’re here and we’ve been here. But look what the Cup did for a club like FC Cincinnati in 2017 [the Ohio side went to the Semifinal and and are now a Major League Soccer franchise]. The same thing could happen for us. We want to be the best we can be as a club – and the Open Cup is an opportunity, every year, to win something.
(The Battery have been crowned league champs - USISL & USL - Four times, with Anhaeuser as player or coach)
In the Open Cup, you go from being favorites to underdogs in weeks. Which do you prefer to be?
MA: You try not to prepare the team differently no matter who you play. That’s what you try, anyway. But it’s difficult not to be aware of it when you’re playing an MLS team – when you’re up against a top-flight team you know it. You play in the first games against amateur teams and a few guys are getting their first starts. I’m nervous in those games when I put a new guy out there – because you’re expected to win. You lose, and it’s not a good feeling. It’s happened to us and, trust me, you don’t want it. It’s going to happen – it’s just the nature of the beast, but you want to do all you can to avoid it happening to you.
With the tradition, the preparation and the hunger right, do you think something like what happened in 2008 could happen again?
MA: We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, but I do use that 2008 Final run as a motivation. We were a few bounces away from winning the Open Cup. We were in the Final at RFK against DC United – with all their tradition and talent – but we tied them up at 1-1. Then we went ahead, but the goal was called back for offside. It was only my third year as a head coach. It was a huge thing. We were right there.
(Anhaeuser in action in one of his animated team talks)
Is it the kind of thing you look back with disappointment or pride – or both?
MA: It was very disappointing to lose, because you build up an expectation when you make it that far. When you compete so well and go so far, you‘re not happy just to make it there – we were unhappy that we lost. But we were there for a reason. It was amazing and great and disappointing. It’s easy for me to pass this feeling on to the players now because I still have that feeling in my belly. I’d love to get Charleston back there for the players of today. They’d never forget it. People out there might forget that we made it to the Final – but we won’t forget. Not here at the Battery. What we did was what is amazing about the Cup – we were a lower division team and we had a chance to win it. This is a for-real opportunity. It just takes one or two upsets here or there and you’re a champion.
The Old Ghosts of San Francisco
Without Boxer Stadium, there’d be no Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. No Allianz Field in St. Paul. You’d have none of your gleaming, glittering tributes to the strides soccer’s made in America without this old ground. It was built in 1953 and it ain’t pretty. The grass is long and patched with dandelions. Weeds grow through the cracks in the concrete grandstand. It’s the oldest soccer-specific stadium in the country. A West Coast version of New York City’s Metropolitan Oval, it’s where the ghosts of American soccer’s past – its brawls and all slender glories – whisper and mingle with the here and now. Sure, the wind whips through Boxer and you’d better bundle up. But oh how she looks out over the rooftops of the City by the Bay. Sixty-three years after her opening, Boxer’s still hosting U.S. Open Cup games.
Most recently on Boxer’s bumpy pitch, El Farolito, semi-pro strivers with history and pedigree, stretched the visiting pros from Fresno. The tackles were vicious. The play was slow, deliberate on that long grass. Skillful. One mistake was always going to decide it. In the end, El Farolito’s goalkeeper Luis Castro dropped the ball. It fell to the wrong foot. And that was that. Boxer Stadium doesn’t play favorites. She’s just a witness to what the game was, is and might become still.
Wynalda’s Past, Present & Future
Eric Wynalda knocked Cal FC out of the Open Cup. It was almost Biblical. He built that team of unknowns and left-behinds from greater LA into a unit, and on one given night in 2012, they took down the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. But before you tar and feather the man, Wynalda’s no sell-out. Not a chance. He’s still that same old avowed evangelist of the Open Cup, its underdogs and opportunities, the warm hand it puts on the shoulder of those who believe in impossible things. His current side, the Las Vegas Lights of the USL Championship, have something of the Bad News Bears about them. From Sammy Ochoa, still wily but paunchy and nearing the end, to fiery winger Pablo Cruz, one of six players Wynalda brought with him from Cal FC. The Lights wear garish neon and keep a pair of lovely llamas, Dolly and Dotty, as mascots. Hoopla aside, the Open Cup Second Round game played at Cashman Field in downtown Vegas, between Cal FC and Las Vegas Lights, was about as devoted to attack and style and fire, as any you’re likely to see.
(Eric Wynalda fits right in with the eccentric Las Vegas Lights)
When Eric Wynalda’s past and present met, we all hit the jackpot. What of his future, you ask? A date at that same old baseball stadium off the Strip against another amateur side, Orange County FC. They’re led by Wynalda’s old USA teammate Paul Caligiuri. Will we never escape the past?
.@lvlightsfc coach @EricWynalda faces former club & 2012 giant-killers @Cal_FC for a #USOC2019 2nd Round jackpot 🎰 🎲 off the Vegas strip.— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 14, 2019
📖 » https://t.co/79YsQmgw2V
📽 » https://t.co/8JpXXU1pH8 pic.twitter.com/VbTZYBRvs6
Live By the Shootout…
Des Moines Menace goalkeeper Jordan Bell rescued his team in the First Round. His psych-out head games upset Duluth FC. He leapt on the line and rattled the crossbar during that shootout last week. And it worked. But he ran out of mojo this time. He pressed his luck in front of that same goal where he tripped up the brittle Minnesotans. Against Saint Louis FC’s pros, Bell’s antics went stale. He had the air of a one-hit wonder playing that same old tune for old time’s sake. Was there anything at all written on the crib sheet he kept in his sock and consulted before every kick? Was it just an elaborate scam? If so, how delicious. The yellow card Bell earned may not be the first-ever shown in an Open Cup shootout, but you don’t see its ilk every day. He spent so much time and energy trying to get in the kickers’ heads, he forgot to make his saves. Bell got his hands to the first shot and should have kept it out. But on this night, he saved none while his counterpart – 18 year-old Patrick Schulte – was the one with the hot hands. The skinny youngster saved three of four before earning a big hug from his mom and grandma, who came out to watch their boy’s first pro start.
Teachers, Students & Open Cup Lessons
Chas Wilson, a social studies teacher at West Chester Henderson High School in suburban PA, put his hand up in the air in celebration. He’d scored again for his West Chester Predators; this time against pros Birmingham Legion. It was only consolation, but it was a salute to all those landscapers, laborers and nine-to-fivers out there who still play the game because they love it. Because of the sheer joy of it. His hand went up in salute to his students, who he teaches from beyond the classroom in this 106-year-old soccer tournament. They’re simple, enduring lessons. Chase your dreams, his hand in the air seemed to say. Don’t make excuses. Don’t give up. Not all victories are wins.
That's the end of a long road for spirited amateurs @WCUSCPredators, who bow out after losing 4-1 to pro side @bhmlegion in Alabama (Opoku added a late one). The winners move on to meet @USLChampionship champs @loucityfc in the Third Round.#USOC2019 🏆 pic.twitter.com/QGmbDyf6bn— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 16, 2019
Elsewhere, in Nashville, Kobe Perez of South Georgia Tormenta FC 2 missed his high school graduation to play in an Open Cup game. He lost, 2-3 to pro side Nashville SC. And he missed out on those caps and gowns – that special, bittersweet day of hugs and endings and new beginnings. Let’s not worry, though, for what’s won and lost isn’t always tallied on the scoreboard.
Cup Dreams & Soccer Soldiers
It wasn’t possible. It must have been a dream. The whole thing. It was a nightmare back-pass for Charlotte Independence defender Hassan Ndam, who laid the ball into the loose space between himself and his keeper. It was a dream-come-true for Valentin Sabella, who raced onto the gift, around the ‘keeper and slotted home. There were just two minutes left in extra-time. The score was 2-2 now and penalties loomed. “What is happening?!” ESPN+ analyst Bobby Warshaw shouted in wonder and despair and disbelief. What was happening was the essence of the Open Cup. Florida’s amateur Soccer Soldiers, down a man for many minutes, were on their way to beating their second pro team in the 2019 tournament and capturing our imagination with their cheek and style and guts. “This makes no sense!” Warshaw, who knew the Open Cup as a player, screamed as the Soccer Soldiers moved on against all logic and heavy odds. He sounded almost resigned by the end. “This is the Open Cup,” he conceded, his voice withered from the excitement. It is indeed. More, please.
Soccer in a Baseball World
You can still see the shadow of the pitcher’s mound. It stains the grass like a shipwreck under the water. A vestigial infield cuts through the pitch’s flank like a wound. There’s something awkward about these abandoned baseball stadiums – Cashman in Vegas, the one in El Paso, Memphis and Al Lang Stadium in Tampa Bay. But these old ghosts have something to say. Something mournful about where we’ve been as a country and where we’re heading. Like the train whistles that sounded from passing engines in Pittsburgh, on the Monongahela River, beside the magnificent soccer specific home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. And in Little Rock in Arkansas, which saw its first Open Cup game since the tournament began in 1914. These are the sounds and sights of the last century, one where the Open Cup survived, awkwardly at times. Is it also a glimpse of soccer’s bright future in these United States?
Too Close to Call
It was just too close in Orange County. Literally. When you say Orange County SC and Orange County FC out loud on TV, the two names sound exactly the same. So the ESPN+ commentators came up with a system: Orange County Blues and Orange County Blacks. An elegant workaround and one suited to the Open Cup’s spirit of improvisation. These two teams, one amateur and one pro, could not be separated. After 90 minutes, they were too close, tangled at 2-2. After 120 minutes, still they were tied. It seemed fitting, in the end, for the fate of two teams separated by just one single letter of the alphabet, who share the same stadium every weekend, to be decided by a shootout. And the amateurs won.
If the first edition is anything to go by, the 🍊 County Derby is going to become a classic. 2-2 after 120 minutes, amateur @ocfcsoccer edged all-pro @orangecountysc on PKs to book a date in the Third Round against @lvlightsfc.— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 16, 2019
📺 Highlights | #USOC2019 pic.twitter.com/5gKM1SPxg6
A Fond Farewell
In among the upsets and the dreams, we’d be wrong not to spare a thought for those clubs who took their leave. With every rise, a fall – this is the Open Cup after all. There’s no winner without a loser. No draws here. Nothing to share. You NTX Rayados, we’re sad you’re gone. You showed us your style and class, and even cancelled flights and flat tires couldn’t stop you. West Chester’s Predators, you ruled the road and are closer for it. The Villages, the Buffalo from Central Florida, we’re sure we’ll see you again too. Cal FC’s Richie Menjivar and Danny Barrera – those heroes of 2012 – you remind us that anything is possible in the Open Cup. For those we’ve lost, know you’ve all done your part.