Jim Launder has always wanted the Madison 56ers to play in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, giving his National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) team a shot at playing against a professional side.
So after the 56ers won the NPSL Midwest Region title last year, they started making plans to play in this spring’s USASA Region II Open Cup tournament.
That included putting together a roster of players who would be available for the early rounds of the tournament – many of the 56ers’ players are college athletes and aren’t allowed to start playing with the team until mid-May due to NCAA regulations.
But in February, the US Soccer Federation announced that the NPSL would receive four berths into the US Open Cup, and the league in turn revealed that each of its four regions would be allocated one spot.
While the league’s other three regions have recently unveiled a qualifying format, the Midwest Region opted to award its Open Cup berth to the 56ers as the 2010 champion.
“It’s pretty cool that we’re going right in,” Launder said, “but I wish I hadn’t done all the work to put this whole team together and now have to tell the guys, ‘Just kidding.’
“But this is better, and in the long run it’s a good thing to have (the automatic berths).”
56ers general manager Charles Billings, a member of the NPSL Board who handles much of the organization for the Midwest Region, said none of the other six Midwest teams expressed interest in a qualifying tournament.
Perhaps one reason the teams didn’t want to add qualifying was that by the time the U.S. Soccer announcement was made, the regional schedule already had been set and would have had to be redone.
The 56ers have made four previous appearances in the Open Cup, all before the Professional Era (1995-present). They fell in the Region II semifinals from 1988 to ’90, and were ousted by Illinois’ RWB Adria 7-6 on penalty kicks following a 4-4 tie in the 1991 quarterfinals.
Launder coached the team – then known as the Princeton-56ers – in the USASA Region II tournament in 2007 and ’08, falling to Michigan’s Detroit United 2-1 in the first round in 2007 and 2-0 to RWB Adria in the semifinals the next year. Region II has traditionally awarded the NPSL Midwest champion an automatic spot in its tournament the following year.
The roster Launder put together for the anticipated Region II tournament was a combination of 56ers players who are not in college, some of the team’s standouts from recent years and other current and former pro players.