Players from Motagua of New Orleans gather in a warehouse in Balch Springs, Texas, the site of their 2018 US Open Cup qualifying match against NTX Rayados. Photo: Motagua of New Orleans Facebook page
Like all knockout competitions, open division qualifying for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is a grind that often has a charming edge to it lost in the later rounds when professional teams enter the fray. But there’s hardly anything romantic about a coach giving his team a halftime talk in a public bathroom or another team finding shelter from the cold in a storage shed only to be kicked out by a groundskeeper.
That’s the situation a couple of amateur teams found themselves in when they went to great lengths to travel and play in unsuitable venues for the final round qualifying two weekends ago.
For Stegman’s SC, the parent club of the NPSL’s Minneapolis City SC, that meant flying to Rochester, New York to play in 30-degree weather at a venue that didn’t have suitable locker rooms. Instead, the team had to huddle in a bathroom during halftime while it was actively in use by the public.
“They definitely weren’t prepared to host us, which was particularly disappointing considering how far we had to travel,” Stegman’s SC player Daniel Warner said.
Sarah Schreier had an even more difficult time as a member of the team’s staff, noting that because the facility was locked when they arrived there were no restrooms available.
“I was told I could go into the woods or drive into town,” she said. “I’m a staff member of Stegman’s City, traveling with a skeleton staff, so I couldn’t just leave for 25 minutes just to use the bathroom. After the guys had checked in, and about 15 minutes before kickoff, I took a van ‘into town’ about 15 minutes away so I could finally go to the bathroom. I missed kickoff and our first and only goal.”
Motagua of New Orleans traveled more than seven hours to Balch Springs, Texas, where they claim to have had an interesting encounter with a groundskeeper.
“Well, we had to go into a warehouse just to keep warm last night,” a post on the club’s Facebook account reads. “To add insult to injury, the groundskeeper kicked us out stating we could not utilize said space. Not to say this was reason we lost but after traveling long hours, to find out we have no where (sic) to rest, change, prepare for a very important match, is very unacceptable.”
The argument from both teams is that they were better equipped to host the match, but instead had to travel. Stegman’s also traveled to Illinois in the second round and won by forfeit in the first round. Motagua traveled to Missisippi in the first round and to Lafayette, Louisiana for Round 2.
Host sites for the qualifying rounds are determined by “a random draw or coin flip” but there is a process by which teams have to submit up to two potential venues should they be selected to host.
While there are extensive requirements for suitable venues once the “US Open Cup proper” begins, the responsibilities of the home team are limited to providing a safe playing field a minimum of 100 yards by 65 yards, regulation-size goals and corner flags, at least three properly-inflated match balls and making sure the officiating crew is paid at the end of the match. Beyond that, it’s on the host team.
Tito Salas, a player/coach/manager for NTX Rayados, was surprised to hear of the complaints from CD Motagua, a team he has become well-acquainted with in regional competitions and for whom his brother-in-law Reece Wilson plays.
Both Salas and Wilson missed the game that sparked the complaints, which the Rayados won, because they were away on a family vacation but Salas said the two teams played at the same facility in the second round last year and he didn’t hear any complaints. The weather was a factor, however, this year as the wind chill was in the 40s.
“I think locker rooms for me are very much an extra,” Salas said. “I get it, they expect more and they want more and that’s fine but there are a lot of reasons, financial and availability, that we can’t play in a stadium that has all of those things for qualifying.”
Elizabeth Sánchez, a spokeswoman for the US Open Cup, organized by the US Soccer Federation, said the looser venue standards for local qualifying are designed to enable more teams to participate.
“We want as many amateur teams as possible to participate in Open Cup qualifying,” she wrote in an email to TheCup.us. “The venue requirements for this phase of the tournament are meant to allow for this. In all practicality, only an adequate field marked for soccer, goals, nets, corner flags and balls are needed. This is not unlike most amateur-level leagues.”
Rochester River Dogz, which beat Stegman’s SC 2-1 in their game, did not respond to a request for comment.