About the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup

The Columbus Crew celebrate their 2002 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup championship at Crew Stadium with the late Lamar Hunt, who the tournament is named after. Photo: Columbus Crew

Dating back to 1913, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is the oldest current national cup competition in United States soccer and is the second oldest continuously-running worldwide.

Open to all affiliated amateur and professional teams in the United States, the Open Cup is very similar to domestic cup competitions popular throughout Europe, South America and the rest of the world. Cup competitions, which usually run concurrent with a country’s league season, are open in the early stages to any club that can qualify, giving local amateur teams a chance to compete against the best teams a country has to offer. (American sports fans: imagine your local minor league baseball team getting to play the New York Yankees in a March Madness-style single-elimination tournament)

In countries like the England, Italy, and Germany, cup competitions are prestigious tournaments waged between teams in a country’s strongest league like Manchester United of the British Premier League, AC Milan of Italy’s Serie A, and Bayern Munich of Germany’s Bundesliga, and smaller teams like Watford FC in England, a small-time club that hit it big in 1984 by making it all the way to the Football Association Cup Final. The unfashionable Chesterfield of the Second Division (the third flight in England) advanced to the semifinals of the 1997 FA Cup and most recently bottom feeders Wigan Athletic stunned Manchester City to win the 2013 FA Cup Final. In Germany, the biggest German Cup surprise came in 1993 when Hertha Berlin’s reserve team (3rd Division) reached the Final.

The winner of each country’s domestic cup competition, in addition to taking home the prize money, often advance to continent-wide knockout competitions. The winner of the US Open Cup earns a place in the CONCACAF Champions League, which leads to the FIFA Club World Cup.

As the oldest current annual team tournament in US sports history, the US Open Cup dates back to 1914 when the Brooklyn Field Club won the first national title by defeating the Brooklyn Celtics in Pawtucket, R.I. First instituted as the National Challenge Cup under the aegis of the United States Football Association, it was conceived as a competition open to all players (amateur and professional) and based upon England’s FA Cup format.

During the Open Cup’s early years, teams sponsored by industry in the East’s urban centers dominated the competition. Bethlehem Steel (Pa.) won four Open Cup titles between 1915 and 1919, while Fall River Marksmen (Mass.) won five national crowns between 1917 and 1931, tying Bethlehem Steel (a winner also in 1926) and Maccabee AC of Los Angeles (1973, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1981) as the tournament’s only five-time winners.

Although there have been numerous back-to-back winners (eight overall by seven different teams), only Fall River Marksmen (1930-1932), Stix, Baer and Fuller/St. Louis Central Breweries (1933-1935), Greek American Atlas of New York City (1967-1969) and, most recently, the Seattle Sounders (2009-2011) of Major League Soccer have won three consecutive crowns. (Read more about the three-peat winners here)

While teams sponsored by industries in the East’s urban centers dominated the Open Cup until the 1950s, teams from the West and Midwest flexed their muscles in later years. In fact, California alone has garnered the lion’s share of success, winning 10 titles since 1973. Missouri, Illinois and Florida have also appeared regularly on the winner’s list.

Although it is now a complete “knock-out” tournament, with a few exceptions, the US Open Cup final was a two-leg, home-and-away series between 1928 and 1968.

Despite the prominence of the North American Soccer League from 1967 to 1984, NASL teams chose not to enter the US Open Cup. In fact, until the emergence of Major League Soccer (MLS), full professional teams were almost non-existent in the competition. Since MLS was launched in 1996, the United States’ top division has dominated the Open Cup, with the exception of 1999 when the A-League’s Rochester Raging Rhinos (2nd Division) lifted the trophy after upsetting four MLS teams. Now, with three professional divisions and multiple leagues that make up a strong amateur division, the true national championship of the United States continues into its second century.