Once upon a time, before the proliferation of podcasts, social media and YouTube, there was an internet radio show based out of Lansing, Mich. that was the only one of its kind that covered every level of American soccer, from the still-fledgling Major League Soccer (MLS) to the birth of what is now the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).
In 2003 the host of the show, Josh Hakala, was approached with an idea. Since the “Soccer Fanatics Radio Show” was one of the few, if not the only, live shows that was giving full coverage to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, why not start a website that covers the tournament?
That’s how TheCup.us (originally USOpenCup.com) began. And now, more than a decade later, the site remains the only place where fans can find in-depth information and coverage about one of the best-kept secrets, not just in American soccer, but in American sports.
While the site has never been affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) in any way, many people over the years have mistaken TheCup.us as the tournament’s official site (which is flattering). This reflects the high standards the site has held over the years in aspiring to give the soccer community a professional media outlet that helps fans keep up with the tournament and learn about its rich history.
USOpenCup.com is born
In 2003, Hakala was approached by soccer website company Demosphere International about helping to manage a website that they had just created under the domain name USOpenCup.com. At the time, Hakala was co-hosting an online radio show with his friend Scott Yoshonis in Lansing, Mich., called the “Soccer Fanatics Radio Show.” The show spent a lot of time focusing on coverage of the US Open Cup, and Demosphere felt that it would be a win/win – Hakala could use the site to promote his radio show and help cover a tournament that he was obviously passionate about and Demosphere had a website to show off some of the great work they could and would do for soccer clubs, organizations and tournaments worldwide.
In the early days of the site, it was a modest operation with schedules, results, some recaps and news, but what was sorely lacking was a historical archive. Hakala then recruited Chuck Nolan Jr., who researched soccer history as a hobby and had a small website of his own where he posted the information. With Nolan on board, the site was on its way, forming a balance between the past and present. As time went on, more volunteers continued to contribute and the more the writer roster expanded, so did the coverage.
The radio show came to a close in December 2003 after Hakala moved to Philadelphia, but he continued to operate the website. Every year, the site grew, and for Hakala and Nolan, it became a little more than a hobby.
Pass the offering plate?
As the years moved on, the work on the site became nearly a full-time commitment, especially during the running of the tournament. USOpenCup.com was maintained alongside full-time jobs, full-time college and family commitments. Every year, the traffic on the site continued to grow, so they inquired about the possibility of inserting advertisements into the site in an effort to compensate the two of them for all the time and money they were putting into this project. It had also become increasingly difficult to recruit people to help with the site when there was no way to pay them.
At that point Demosphere, who owned the domain name USOpenCup.com, was told by the USSF that the Federation had a right to the domain name due to the fact that they held the copyright and trademark for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, but that it was pleased with the work that was being done on the site. After all, their marquee tournament was receiving comprehensive coverage from a dedicated group of volunteers and it wasn’t costing them a penny. But if money was being made by anyone else on a domain name that they had a legal right to, that was a problem for the Federation’s legal department, which could lead to the USSF simply confiscating the entire operation as a legal remedy.
In an effort to avoid future conflicts, Demosphere signed the domain name over to the USSF. All parties involved agreed that the website would not change as a result of the official change in ownership of the domain name.
This created a difficult situation for Hakala and Nolan, since they were spending hundreds of hours keeping the website updated with the latest news and information and continuing to build the site’s historical archive, yet it was impossible for them to be compensated for their time. Since advertisements and donations were out of the question, the only logical step was for Hakala and Nolan to be paid by the USSF. They created a proposal and negotiations began at that point. Those discussions ended with the USSF deciding that it was unable to find any money in its budget to fund or even contribute to the website.
Having exhausted all other options, Hakala and Nolan began to explore other ways to continue to provide the high-quality coverage that fans and media members have come to expect from USOpenCup.com. An important first step was finding a domain name that did not conflict with USSF’s copyrights and trademarks.
After a long and exhaustive process, the domain name TheCup.us was purchased and a new website was created.
TheCup.us era begins
The site has grown more popular with each passing year, both on social media (Twitter, Facebook) and with reader numbers. Nolan’s full-time job and other commitments saw his ability to contribute diminish, but he still occasionally uncovers, and then covers, some historical diamonds in the rough. Hakala has pretty much been a one-man show running the site, which has become more and more challenging due to his full-time job, freelance broadcasting work, the addition of three kids to his family (including a set of twins), and a family medical crisis that took up the better part of a year and a half.
Thanks to a volunteer army of writers TheCup.us has covered hundreds of Cup games from coast to coast. Without them, this site could not function as it does. Among the many people who have contributed to the site over the years, one person deserves special recognition: Gerald Barnhart. A former communications director at the United Soccer Leagues, the Washington native played a massive role in keeping the site alive when Hakala was overwhelmed by life, whether that be wrangling his kids or dealing with that medical crisis that nearly forced the site to close. The last couple years would have been nearly impossible to manage without him.
The future for this tournament is bright. One thing that Hakala has repeated in numerous interviews over the years is that the FA Cup in England reached its peak and no longer holds the place on the sports mantle that it used to. After more than a century, the US Open Cup, on the other hand, has never reached its peak. When it receives the proper media attention and promotion it deserves, in a country that worships the underdog-inspiring, one-and-done drama of the NCAA basketball tournament, it will finally reach that peak.
Anyone who follows and appreciates the US Open Cup knows that while the tournament has grown in popularity slowly but surely, there is still a long way to go until it receives its due as one of the most historic cup competitions in the world and we hope that this new era for TheCup.us will significantly facilitate that growth.
Josh Hakala is a sports broadcaster and the creator/senior editor of TheCup.us. You can reach him on Twitter @USOpenCup or on his personal account @JoshHakala. Anyone interested in contributing (writing, research, website design), sponsoring TheCup.us, or if you have any questions or have some historical information about the US Open Cup to share, please email him here.