The 2013 US Open Cup is still going, but two teams have already qualified to the 2014 version of the tournament. Thanks to Anthony Falcone’s proposal, four-time Open Cup champion New York Greek American Atlas and Icon FC of New Jersey have qualified to next year’s tournament out of USASA Region I.
At the national USASA annual meeting held two weeks ago, Falcone, who is the Maryland Soccer Association’s president and Region I deputy director, proposed that the USASA’s representatives in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup be determined earlier because the state and regional tournaments are usually held starting in the fall and run through spring, running right up against the US Soccer Federation deadline for the LHUSOC.
“By doing it in advance…it creates better opportunities for our teams,” Falcone said. “Now, these teams can recruit players, look for sponsors, raise money, and look for an opportunity to host a first-round match.”
For those unfamiliar with the USASA, the national organization holds an Amateur Cup and an Open Cup tournament every year. There is very little difference between the two competitions, except that more teams enter the Amateur Cup every year and up until this year, the Open Cup was the only path for USASA regional teams to enter the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Both tournaments hold state tournaments, which lead to regionals, and the four regional winners move on to the USASA National Finals to determine a champion.
Under Falcone’s plan, the USASA’s Amateur and Open tournaments would continue, the only difference is that instead of the two finalists from each region’s Open Cup tournament entering the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, only the Amateur and Open Cup winners from each region would qualify for the following year’s competition instead of being rushed into the current calendar year’s event.
After the original NASL refused to compete in the US Open Cup, there were very few professional clubs that took part in the tournament between 1967 and 1994. The USASA and the amateur clubs under their umbrella kept the tournament going and when top flight professional soccer returned in 1995, naturally the pro teams dominated the competition. In the years that followed, the USASA created their own Open Cup for amateur clubs and the tournament bears the name of the late Werner Fricker, a former USSF president and one of American soccer’s important figures.
In the current format, which has been in place since 2004, the USASA Open Cup finalists from each of the four regions (8 teams) qualify for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Falcone proposed that instead of the two berths that each region receives being determined through solely the Open Cup tournament, one of the two berths should come from the Amateur Cup.
Falcone said, “We’ll revisit whether it’ll be the amateur and open winners, or if we take the top two open champions. But, the thought is that we should give [the Amateur Cup] teams a chance. It gives meaning to both competitions.”
In one of the biggest changes in recent history in regards to the USASA’s participation in the LHUSOC, the USASA board of directors imposed a new national deadline for its member organizations and teams for the event, setting the date for December 31. The decision allowed the USASA to, in essence, mandate that all the regions determine their entrants the year in advance, stopping short of making each region to submit their Open Cup and Amateur Cup champions. The move allows each region to determine their entries and gives them the flexibility to perhaps change their regional event schedules if necessary.
Region I, the home association of Falcone, immediately responded to the new deadline, choosing to implement Falcone’s proposal for their own region in advance of the past weekend’s regional finals. And, according to the cup commissioners for Region II, III and IV, they are all planning to follow suit, though none of them have made an official announcement as of yet.
One of the motivations for the change is scheduling. Currently, the USASA is required to determine their two entries by the Open Cup’s qualifying deadline. In past years, this has been in early May, but as of 2012, the tournament has been kicking off in early May, so the deadline has been pushed back to late April, which has made things difficult for the amateur flights and led to the USL PDL electing to award berths based on the previous season’s results. By determining their entries the previous year, this removes the pressure for the various USASA tournament organizers and the teams to complete the regional semifinals by late April. Games can now be spread out more, if needed, and in the case that there is a delay, or a protest, then there is ample time to reschedule matches.
Also, any coach at the amateur level will tell you, player availability is a big issue. Deciding teams early and giving the qualifying teams the better part of a year to prepare, players can make sure they make arrangements to get time off with their full-time jobs.
Issues do arise if the new format is approved. For example, there is no rule in place barring a team from competing in both competitions. While Falcone said that it is rare for a team to win both tournaments, it still doubles a team’s chances to make it to the Open Cup. If a team does win both cups, likely one of the runner-up teams would be selected as the second entry, but as of now, no official rule has been established for this situation.
Also, while having extra time to prepare has its benefits, there is always the possibility that a team will be drastically different from the time it qualifies to the time it plays its first round US Open Cup match a little less than a year later. Falcone argues that while that may be the case, early qualification also gives teams a strong recruiting tool as they prepare for next year’s Open Cup.
On Sunday, the coaches of the finalists of the Region I Amateur Cup and Open Cup tournaments —NY Greek American Atlas, Italian American SC, Icon FC, and Mass Premier Soccer—wholeheartedly supported the change. Icon FC manager Greg Bajek said, “It gives us time to prepare, maybe host a game. So we’re excited. It’s a very good thing for our organization. It’s nice to be recognized longer prior to the cup.”
While the Premier Development League, the USASA and most of the NPSL have elected to determine their entries well in advance, it remains to be seen if the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup committee will adopt an earlier tournament-wide qualifying deadline.
The remaining three USASA regions have yet to make an official decision, but regardless of what they opt for, Greek American Atlas and Icon FC at least know that they have punched their tickets to the 2014 edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
2013 USASA Amateur Cup Final
New York Greek American Atlas 5:1 Italian American Sport Club
Ukrainian American Sports Center Field #1 – Horsham, Pa.
The Greek Americans played the Italian Americans at the Ukrainian American Sports Center on Sunday.
In the USASA Region I Amateur Cup final, New York Greek American Atlas bagged a 5-1 victory over Italian American Sport Club from Rochester, NY, to qualify for both the USASA National Cup Finals and the 2014 US Open Cup.
Former New York Red Bulls player Chris Megaloudis scored four goals and Stephan Pierce added another in the rout. After the Greeks scored in the 26th minute, the Italian’s Ngwese Ebangwese leveled the match in the 29th. Atlas scored again in the 37th, 50th, 56th, and 88th minutes to put the game away.
“We played great. No offense to them, but I mean at 5-1, we obviously completely outplayed them. We had pretty much a full squad, which really helped,” Greek American player/coach Joe Ruesgen said. “The big thing this year was to make it to the final four. The Open Cup was really a cherry on top. It’s an incentive for the guys coming back next year to continue playing and to work hard.”
Italian American coach Srikar Bakshi said, “I thought we gave 100 percent. We played a very strong, well-organized team. The better team won. The result was fair. I’m proud of what our team accomplished this year.”
The Greeks, who have won the US Open Cup four times (1967-69, 1974), will make their fifth appearance in the tournament since 1995 next year (1998, 2004, 2005, 2012). Despite their strong resume, they have yet to win a game in the tournament in their last four appearances. In their last trip to the competition, they lost a road game to the PDL’s Reading United 2-1 back in 2012.
2013 Amateur Cup
Quarterfinals (April 28)
Stanford Olympia (CT) 0:1 Battery Park Gunners (MA)
NY Greek-American Atlas (ENY) 7:0 Vistula Garfield SC (NJ)
Dulles Sportsplex Aegean Hawks FC (MDCVA) 0:1 Maryland Bays (MD)
Italian American Sport Club (WNY) 5:2 Vereinigung Erzgebirge (EPA)
Semifinals (May 12 & 19)
Battery Park Gunners (MA) 2:2 (4:5 PK’s) NY Greek-American Atlas (ENY)
Maryland Bays (MD) 2:3 Italian American Sport Club (WNY)
Final (June 16)
Italian American Sport Club (WNY) 1:5 NY Greek-American Atlas (ENY)
NY Greek American Atlas qualifies for the 2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup
2013 USASA Open Cup – Region I Final
Icon FC 2:1 Mass Premier Soccer
Ukrainian American Sports Center Field #2 – Horsham, Pa.
Despite being down a goal and a man after 71 minutes to Mass Premier Soccer, Icon FC of New Jersey were able to come back and earn a 2-1 victory that won the squad a spot in the USASA National Open Cup Finals and 2014 US Open Cup.
Mass Premier Soccer, which lost in the first round of this year’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup to GPS Portland Phoenix of the PDL, took the lead in the first half on a goal from Roy Sandeman. Strong defensive play helped MPS keep the lead, but player/coach Dan MacGregar said that his team eventually ran out of gas.
“Unfortunately we were missing three or four guys,” said Macgregar. “We ran out of legs. We played well enough to win. It was an even game, but we just got tired at the end.”
A red card to an Icon player in the 71st minute actually seemed to inspire the New Jersey side. Three minutes later, Nelson Becerra received a through-ball at the top of the box. He rounded the keeper and easily slid it into the net. Then in the 82nd minute, Kevin Zalewski got on the end of a cross for an easy tap-in.
Bajek, who coached Icon to a US Open Cup First Round victory over Brooklyn Italians last month was proud of his team’s performance.
“We clamped down after the red card–it motivated us. The other team played very well defensively. It was a battle to the end.”
Icon FC will make their second straight appearance in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, and will be the third year in a row that a USASA team from New Jersey will represent in the tournament (Jersey Shore Boca – 2012)
2013 USASA Open Cup
Quarterfinals (April 7 & 21)
Newtown Men’s Soccer (CT) 0:0 (7:6 PKs) NY Pancyprian Freedoms (ENY) – April 21
New York won original match 1-0 on April 7, but replay ordered due to player registration error
Rhode Island Reds FC (RI) 0:1 Mass Premier Soccer (MA)
West Chester United (EPA) 2:4 Icon FC (NJ)
Screaming Eagles (MD) 0:1 Dulles Sportsplex Aegean Hawks FC (MDCVA)
Note: Screaming Eagles (originally 1-0 winners) disqualified for using ineligible players
Semifinals (April 21 & 28)
Newtown Men’s Soccer (CT) 0:6 Mass Premier Soccer (MA)
Icon FC (NJ) 1:1 (7:6 PKs) Dulles Sportsplex Aegean Hawks FC (MDCVA)
Icon FC, Mass Premier Soccer qualifies for 2013 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup
Final (June 16)
Mass Premier Soccer (MA) 1:2 Icon FC (NJ)
Icon FC qualifies for the 2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup