Over last 100 years, official name of the US Open Cup tournament largely a mystery

Posted by | September 30, 2013 | One Comment

USFA president Dr. G. Randolph Manning was in charge when the tournament was named the "National Challenge Cup" when it launched in 1913.

What’s in a name?

In the vast world of soccer, the names of the various championship tournaments and playoffs are fairly easy to pinpoint. For example, we know that in 1992 the European Champion Clubs’ Cup changed its name to the UEFA Champions League, and in the same year England’s First Division was re-organized and christened the Premier League.

You wouldn’t think there would be a question like this, but what exactly has the official title of the tournament currently known as the “Lamar Hunt US Open Cup” been over the years? As the 100th final is quickly approaching, the current governing body of US Soccer isn’t even quite sure.

Two things are crystal clear: the competition kicked off as the “National Challenge Cup” in October 1913, and since September 7, 1999, the official name has been the” Lamar Hunt US Open Cup,” in honor of soccer pioneer Lamar Hunt. What the ‘official’ name of the tournament has been in the 86 years prior to that has been ever changing and at times not always clear.

For the first twenty or so years, the name was pretty simple: the National Challenge Cup. However, to read the newspapers of the era you would get many different monikers for the tournament. For example, readers of The New York Times would see such names as the “U.S.F.A. Cup,” “United States Championship” or simply “National Cup.” If a newspaper had a regular soccer writer, the tournament would at least be referred to by a consistent name. Newspapers without a regular reporter for the local soccer scene were often the ones with multiple names for the Cup. A writer not very familiar with the game he was covering would tend to dole out any number of the above names.

By the late 1930s, some newspapers (Detroit, Pittsburgh and Boston, most notably) began replacing “challenge” with “open”, presumably to differentiate it from the “National Amateur Cup,” which was inaugurated in 1924. By the 1950s “National Open Cup” was widely used, although some papers held on to “National Challenge Cup” on occasion. In fact, The New York Times used the “National Challenge Cup” name well into the 1970s.

The National Soccer News, which was published from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, often used “National Challenge Cup” or “National Cups” in headlines for stories that contained news on both tournaments, but separated the two within the stories with “open” and “amateur/Simon Pure”. Even Soccer America seemed to be unable to settle on a consistent name in their early years of publication. In stories from their 1975 issues, you get the following names: “U.S. Open Cup,” “U.S. Cup,” “National Open Challenge Cup,” “United States Dewar’s Open Challenge Cup,” “Dewar’s Challenge Cup.”

MORE: Relive the inaugural National Challenge Cup with “The First Cup” series

After reading official USSF documents about the tournament, it is unclear if it ever had an ‘official’ title for decades. The switch from “Challenge” to “Open” appears to be somewhere between 1937 and 1946. In 1937, the results printed with the USFA convention report bore the heading “National Challenge Cup”, while nine years later the 1946 Convention Report listed the results as “National Open Cup.” To confuse matters even more, some tournament recaps in convention reports in the 60s alternately used “National Challenge Cup”, “National Open Cup” or “National Open Challenge Cup.” Sometimes they used one as a heading and another in the body of the report.

A 1981 press release from the USSF for the cup finals referred to the tournaments as the “USSF National Challenge (Open) Cup” and the “USSF National Amateur Challenge Cup.” Yet in typed-out brackets for the final eight that were attached to the release, it was called simply the “National Open Cup.” By 1984, Budweiser became a major sponsor of the tournaments, with all of the final fours for each cup being played at the same site. The whole event was called the “Budweiser Challenge Cups”, and the Open Cup was referred to as the “Men’s Open.”

As for the current name, as early as 1944 the name “U.S. Open Cup” was used in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and was sometimes used in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the 1950s. The Associated Press began using “U.S. Open Cup” in the late 50s, and was used prominently by the Cleveland Plain Dealer beginning in the 1970s. By the time the 1990s rolled around, “U.S. Open Cup” seemed to be the widespread standard, although to this date, no one has been able to uncover any proof that any formal announcement was made by the federation.

None of the current staff at the United States Soccer Federation were around prior to 2000 and none of the historians who research American soccer are able to confirm an official name for the tournament. It remains an ongoing mystery and as TheCup.us continues to do historical research in an effort to preserve the history of the tournament, the hope is that an answer can be found some day.

One thing is clear. From about 1940 to 1980, it doesn’t appear that the tournament had any kind of official name, but as long as you included “National,” “Open” or “Challenge” in the title, people knew what you were talking about.

One Comment

  • Jason says:

    For the sake of simplicity and to not confuse the majority who do not know about the tournament, I will however stick to the US Open Cup.

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