The Michigan Bucks cruised to a 3-0 win over Detroit City FC in their first meeting in 2015. Photo: Michigan Bucks
It’s (almost) back!
The United States Soccer Federation announced the first and second round matchups for the 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Round 1 will kick off on Wednesday, May 11 and features 18 Premier Development League (PDL) teams, 14 National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) sides, and 14 Open Division qualifiers representing the best teams competing in regional leagues throughout the country.
There will be a total of 23 first round games, but here are the five most intriguing matchups (in no particular order):
Detroit City FC (NPSL) at Michigan Bucks (PDL)
Oakland University Soccer Field; Rochester, MI
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
While this list is not in any particular order, most neutral fans would agree that the rematch between two Metro Detroit rivals is the headliner of Round 1.
Detroit City FC has been one of the NPSL’s biggest success stories off the field as their fan base’s growth and revered supporters culture continues to grab national headlines across the soccer world. Founded back in 2012, the club and its rabid fan base have developed a following that many lower division pro teams would love to have. They averaged 3,528 fans per game last year, which is more than FC Edmonton of the NASL drew in 2015. If Detroit City competed in the 24-team USL, their attendance would rank 10th (granted, with fewer home games).
Just a small sample of Detroit City FC’s fans.
The fans recently put their money where their collective mouth is as the team announced plans to move to and renovate 80-year-old Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck. Keyworth is so old that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attended the stadium’s opening. The team is working with the local community to fix up the historic stadium and recently wrapped up a record-breaking fundraising campaign that saw the club pull in a jaw-dropping $741,250. With support like that, many have speculated that’s it’s only a matter of time before the club outgrows its current amateur status.
Saying their opponent has a strong resume in this competition is a bit of an understatement. The Michigan Bucks hold a number of Modern Era (1995-present) records but two of them have helped the club make a name for themselves nationally. No amateur team has more pro team upsets than the Bucks’ nine and only two clubs have more than three (Des Moines Menace with six, Ocean City Nor’easters with five). In fact, if you exclude the Carolina RailHawks, the Bucks have more wins over pro teams than all of the active NASL teams combined (8).
But their biggest accomplishment is that they are the only amateur team to eliminate two Major League Soccer teams. They stunned the New England Revolution at Foxboro Stadium in 2000, 1-0 on a 90th minute winner by Chad Schomaker. They followed that up in 2012 when they hosted the Chicago Fire at the Ultimate Soccer Arenas (their indoor home) and beat the four-time Open Cup champions 3-2 in extra time.
Despite their on-field success, the Bucks’ fan support is only a fraction of what City draws. The Bucks play their home games in Pontiac, Mich. which is almost the exact same distance from downtown Detroit as FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium is from downtown Dallas. There is a rivalry between the two teams that have developed off the field as Detroit City’s fans mock the Bucks’ lack of fan support. On the other side, Bucks fans point to their on-field resume with two PDL titles (2006, 2014), the most wins in league history and their Open Cup success. While they have been very good in their first four seasons (32-7-11 in regular season play), DCFC has yet to advance beyond the conference final in the NPSL playoffs.
The two teams finally met on the field for the first time last year in the First Round of the US Open Cup. At the Bucks’ indoor home in Pontiac, the City fans vastly outnumbered the Bucks fans in the stands, but it was the Bucks who outnumbered City on the scoreboard. Michigan got three first half goals by David Goldsmith, Peri Marosevic, and Brad Ruhaak and they won 3-0. Thanks to the way the draw worked out, there will be a rematch this year. Only this time, the game will be played outdoors at the Oakland University Soccer Field in Rochester, Mich.
Boca Raton FC (USASA) at Miami Fusion FC (NPSL)
North Miami Athletic Stadium; North Miami Beach, FL
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
Photo: Twitter @BocaRatonFC
South Florida is the place to be if you’re a fan of the beautiful game at any level. David Beckham is leading the charge for the future, yet-to-be named MLS team while Miami FC, led by head coach and AC Milan legend Alessandro Nesta, kicked off its inaugural North American Soccer League (NASL) season last week against fellow South Beach rivals Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Now it’s Miami Fusion FC’s turn to get in on the action. The Fusion will be looking to make a deep run in their first US Open Cup appearance after a successful inaugural NPSL season in 2015 when they took the Sunshine Conference title with seven wins, one loss, and one draw. The club, who are led by former New York Cosmos player Ferdinando De Matthaeis, are not related to the now-defunct MLS team by the same name that finished runner-up in the 2000 US Open Cup.
Their opponent, Boca Raton FC, are coming off a pretty impressive debut season themselves. They cruised to first place in the 2015 American Premier Soccer League (APSL) Fall Tournament with five wins in their seven matches and tournament-best plus-11 goal differential. The APSL is a newly-formed South Florida-based amateur league that are part of a new trend of regional amateur soccer leagues across the country. This will be the third straight Miami-based club that they will have to face, as they narrowly defeated fellow APSL clubs Real Miami CF and Uruguay Kendall (in penalty kicks) to qualify for the Open Cup.
The winner will head north to take on the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads, who have been knocked out of the tournament by an amateur team in three of the last four seasons.
New York Red Bulls U-23 (PDL) at New York Pancyprian Freedoms (USASA)
Belson Stadium (St. John’s Univ.); Jamaica, NY
Kickoff: 7:30p.m. ET
New York Pancyprian Freedoms 2015 Team Photo
You wouldn’t be out of line calling this an “old school vs. new school” matchup. New York Pancyprian Freedoms dominated the US Open Cup in the early 1980’s winning the title in 1980, 1982, and 1983. They even followed up their 1983 title with a semi-final run in what was known back then as the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Today it’s known as the CONCACAF Champions League. You won’t find too many clubs that can match their history and pedigree as they continue to be among the elite in the fabled Cosmopolitan League. It was not an easy path through the open division tournament as the Freedoms had to defeat their biggest rival, and four-time US Open Cup champion, New York Greek Americans in Round 1 by a score of 4-2. They punched their ticket with a 2-1 win over 2012 Open Cup qualifier Jersey Shore Boca.
Representing the “new school” side of this tie is the U-23 side for one of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) premier clubs: the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls’ youth side is one of two teams representing the Mid Atlantic division of the PDL’s Eastern Conference (Jersey Express). The Red Bulls have enjoyed a lot of success in their first six years as a club. They played their first five seasons in the NPSL, winning three division titles in addition to a league title in 2014. They celebrated their first NPSL championship by leaving the league to join the PDL. They qualified for the tournament in 2013 and 2014, and would have made the cut in 2015 but it was unlikely that the NPSL was going to give up one of their Open Cup spots to a team that just left to join a rival league.
The way the draw works out, the winner of this game will get a rather favorable matchup. Rather than playing a USL team, as most Round 1 winners will, the Red Bulls or the Freedoms will take on the winner of Jersey Express (PDL) and the Clarkston Eagles (NPSL).
LA Wolves FC (USASA) at Ventura County Fusion (PDL)
Ventura College Sportsplex; Ventura, CA
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET
LA Wolves (orange) and Del Rey City squared off in the opening round of the 2016 US Open Cup open division qualifying tournament. Photo: Del Rey City SC
“Play Like A Wolf” is the slogan for the United Premier Soccer League’s (UPSL) LA Wolves FC. The senior team sure looked like alpha dogs in 2015, winning 20 of their 21 competitive matches (20-0-1) and ultimately falling short in the league title game, losing to fellow Open Cup qualifier San Nicolas FC. Now they’ll set their sights on a new competition as they enter the Open Cup for the first time in team history. To get there, they had two win two games in the open division tournament, one against fellow UPSL side Del Rey City SC and the other against Cal FC, the team that made a name for themselves in 2012 when they upset the Portland Timbers of MLS. The Wolves are one of three qualifiers from the Los Angeles-based UPSL, a fast-growing amateur league that has expanded to Nevada and Arizona in recent years.
Their opponent, the Ventura County Fusion, have qualified for the seventh straight year, one shy of the amateur record for the Modern Era (Reading United AC – 8). In addition being one of the most consistent PDL teams in the league, the Fusion have also hosted teams from the EPL, Liga MX, and other top divisions from around the globe for friendlies.
They’ve seen it all in their 10-year history with eight playoff appearances, three division titles and a 2009 PDL championship. In Open Cup play, they have won a Modern Era amateur record five straight opening round games, which is a Modern Era record, and have upset a pair of professional teams on the road. They beat the Los Angeles Blues (now Orange County Blues) of the USL in the 2012 Second Round, and knocked off the LA Galaxy II (USL).
A fair warning to those who will be in attendance: be prepared for LOTS of orange. Both sides feature a healthy dose of it in their uniforms.
CD Aguiluchos USA (NPSL) at San Francisco City FC (US Club Soccer)
Beach Chalet #4; San Francisco, CA
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET
San Francisco City FC defeated Cal FC 2-1 in their US Open Cup debut in the 2015 Preliminary Round. Photo: San Francisco City FC
Finally, we turn our attention to the northern half of California. Oakland-based CD Aguiluchos were founded in 2012 in honor of El Salvadoran side CD Augila and, as you might expect, feature a roster full of players drawn from the Bay Area’s Salvadoran population. The club is also managed by former CD Augila coach Hugo Coria. And if you’re still not convinced of their love of all things El Salvador, their away kit is blue and white to honor the national team. This is their second trip to the tournament after qualifying in 2014. They were one-and-done after traveling to Southern California and losing to the Ventura County Fusion, 2-1. The club missed out in 2015 but are back after finishing third in their division with a 7-4-1 record. That third place finish was enough to get into the NPSL playoffs and they made a run all the way to the national semifinals. They lost to the New York Cosmos B, one of the few pro teams in the league that moved on to win the NPSL title and later withdrew from this year’s US Open Cup.
On the other side of the draw is another team with close ties to its community, though in a different way. San Francisco City FC is 51% owned by its club members while the other 49% belongs to their investors/partners. Their Board of Directors, which must vote unanimously to make major changes to the club, is made up of three members: one from the membership group, one from the investor group, and one from the club’s staff. The approach seems to be working as the club is growing. They made the movie from a local amateur league to the PDL, where they will begin play in 2016. There have been reports that the club is being courted to join one of the professional leagues down the road. The roster that will take part in the Open Cup this year will not be the PDL roster that will be on the field this summer, it will be the one that qualified for the competition through the open division qualifying tournament. making its PDL debut this season. This is also their second consecutive Open Cup appearance. Last year, they lost a 2-1 decision to Cal FC at Kezar Stadium.