You’re a part time player, or in the books we call it a weekend warrior. You play for a club called “Weekend United”, in a pretty competitive league. You have a few former professional players as well as a few up and comers that normally play during the college season. As you follow each and every season of Major League Soccer (MLS), the North American Soccer Leagues (NASL), and the United Soccer Leagues (USL), you sit on your couch wondering how lucky some of these other amateur sides are to play in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup against the top clubs in the United States.
You decide to get the boys together and convince them that Weekend United is going to make a statement and participate in the next edition of the US Open Cup. Everyone is excited about the potential to face off against the best of the best in MLS, NASL and the USL. Then the questions begin. How do you register? How much will all of this cost? When do you start playing?
First and foremost, the league Weekend United plays in must be affiliated with your state’s amateur soccer association. Someone in charge of your league will have the answer to that question. However, if you do not live within 80 miles of a league, you are allowed to enter the state qualifying tournament as an independent team.
If your team is co-ed, you are out of luck, as far as the US Open Cup is concerned, although the USASA (United States Adult Soccer Association) does have a National Cup for co-ed teams.
Before you can even think of filling out any paperwork to enter your club, you need to know when your state begins it’s Open Cup qualifying tournament. Most of the Region I states (Northeast and New England region) hold their qualifying soon after the previous cup has ended. This is done to coincide with the many leagues that are in play at the time. Massachusetts is usually the first to begin, in October, with Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Eastern New York, DC/Virginia and the Champions League close behind. The dates of these qualifying tournaments change from year to year. Though not a state association, the Champions League gets a berth in the Region I finals, due to the fact that they are a “super league” of sorts, with clubs from multiple states. Wisconsin and Illinois also complete their qualifying rounds during the Fall season as well. The remaining Region II states, as well as all of the Region III & IV state associations, hold their qualifying matches in the Spring.
Now that you know when your state holds it’s qualifying matches, it’s time to fill out the necessary forms to enter the Open Cup. First is the basic application (This address at the bottom of this form is for the Region II cup commissioner. Be sure to submit this form to your local cup commissioner.) to enter your club in the tournament. These can be found on the regional adult amateur soccer websites, the USASA website, or they can be obtained through either your league or your state association office.
It’s important to note that competitions vary greatly from region to region, so be sure to contact your region’s commissioner for your region’s qualifying details.
Next, you’ll have to make sure all of the players on your team are eligible to participate in the Cup. If you’re a former professional player, you’ll need to fill out an Amateur Reinstatement form. Current professionals players may also play on amateur teams in the Open Cup, but they must be released from any professional contracts they may be under. For those who are from outside the United States, an International Clearance must be obtained. More then a few clubs have seen results overturned and have been disqualified from the competition for the simple reason that they have players who are not eligible to play, because they did not get the proper clearance.
“Players on semi-pro teams from years ago may never have gotten a reinstatement and it isn’t discovered until they want to play in the National Cups. Many of them have even forgotten they were once on a team”, says USASA Region II National Cups Commissioner Debra Trapikas.
Finally, there is the Player Pool Form, so that all of your players are properly listed on the roster, and can receive field passes or I.D. badges. If Weekend United are hosting a cup match, you’ll need to have a Match report Form (Front & Back) handy as well. If you are unsure about anything else, just double check the Manager Checklist.
Now that you have all the forms to complete, how much is all of this going to cost Weekend United? Right off the top, the entry fee is $200. Some regions may add a $20-$25 fee as well, to cover administration costs. Travel is a huge cost to take into consideration, especially if your team makes it to the regional finals and has to travel out of state. One example of how much travel costs can be and how they are covered comes from Brian Gendron of Green Briar Rebels, a club just outside of Boston.
“Our travel costs are limited to team vans we rent for the matches, gas, food and drink for the games, as well as tolls and incidentals. Per game, our team spends roughly $300-400. If we have money in the team budget, we cover the costs with that. Otherwise, we hold fundraisers at our sponsor’s venue to cover the costs,” Gendron said. He also explained that players with the club pay a nominal fee at the beginning of each season to play for Green Briar, which serves as money the team uses for the year. This is then supported by a yearly sponsorship check, as well as the fundraisers.
Many of the older teams are supported by a club with membership dues, and are an athletic branch of that club. If your club is not affiliated with any organization, and has no sponsors, scraping up the cash can be quite a daunting task. Travel costs are a big reason many amateur clubs choose not to participate in the cup. Also keep in mind that if your club hosts a game, your club most likely will be responsible for referee fees for the game.
Now that all of paperwork is filled out and the fees are paid, it’s time to play the matches! There are two levels of qualifying for USASA clubs, state and regional. Sometimes a state will only have one club entered, so that club will advance straight to the regional finals. If more than one club has entered from a state, elimination matches must be played to produce a state represenitive. Regions I & II allow only one club per state into the regional finals, and Regions III & IV allow two per state. Often, the state qualifying matches are played in a single-elimination knockout format, and determining who hosts the matches is done by a blind draw.
This brings up one of the more important factors to remember when entering your amateur club in any National Cup competition, be prepared to travel! One year, the Missouri qualifying champion, as well as the runner-up, withdrew from the qualifying tournament because they were either unwilling or unable to travel out of state for the Region II Finals. Player availability can also become a factor to deal with. Though not much of a problem on the qualifying level, since most matches are scheduled on weekend dates, a club can encounter problems if it qualifies for the Open Cup, since matches are scheduled for the middle of the week. In the 2005 Open Cup, Reggae Boyz from Indiana were forced to play without one of their key players when they traveled to play the Western Mass Pioneers (in Ludlow, MA) in the Second Round. The regional finals formats vary as well
Regions I and II hold their finals in a traditional cup fashion, which could result in more travel for your club, since you could face three different opponents on three separate dates. Regions III & IV conduct their finals tournament differently, in a group format. All of the state representatives gather at a central location (In 2006, they were held in Baton Rouge, LA for Region III and Seattle, WA for Region IV.) and play round robin group matches. The winners of each group, or top two finishers if there is one group, qualify for the US Open Cup. This can reduce the cost of actual travel, but then lodging and food have to be taken into account, since your team will be there for multiple days.
Weekend United has navigated all of the paperwork, travel, you’ve beaten your regional rivals, and now, you’re on to the Cup! Before you can dream of playing giant-killer against a Major League Soccer side, your team has to start back at the bottom. Traditionally, MLS teams don’t enter the tournament until the Third Round, so your team will have to win at least two games to get there. Depending on how the tournament is laid out, you’ll have to play at least one lower division professional side to reach the Third Round, so the road is not easy. In fact, since professional clubs began participating in the Open Cup in 1995, only two USASA clubs (Milwaukee’s Bavarian SC in 2001 and Dallas Roma FC in 2006), have advanced beyond the Second Round.
However, even if Weekend United gets eliminated in their very first match of the Cup, the season is not over! The four regional USASA Open Cup champions meet at the USASA National Cups Finals. In 2009, they were held in Orlando, Fla. During that weekend, the USASA crowns all of its amateur champions for each year, and winning a National Cup final is the crowning achievement for any club.
Now you know what it takes for a USASA club to reach the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, and that it is not as simple as showing up at the park on a Saturday and playing a match. Out of the thousands of amateur clubs around the country, only a handful are daring enough to step up and go for a shot at the “big boys,” and this is just a glimpse of what it takes just to make it on the short list of teams that will vie for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup each year.
Well, what are you waiting for, go after that Cup!