Followers of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and amateur soccer in Colorado may very well be aware of the recent national success of Harpo’s FC, but this year’s tournament will see another emerging power from the Rocky Mountain State look to follow in the footsteps of the two-time Second Round qualifier.
Playing in the Colorado Premier League, FC Denver has been one of the top teams in the state since its inception in 2005, with two USSSA State Cup championships under its belt as well as several other regional titles.
Denver qualified for the 2018 US Open Cup through the open division qualifying tournament, showing excellent form in pitching three shutouts in victories over Gam United FC (3-0), Fort Collins United (1-0), and Indios Denver FC (2-0 AET).
And if the club has anything to say about it, this qualification is just the first step toward growing FC Denver into what player-coach Drew Melin hopes will be a club that garners national recognition.
“I think eventually our goal is to get to a higher level,” said Melin, who plays outside back for FC Denver. “Whether that’s joining a national league or going even farther and joining NPSL or something like that, that’s one of our primary goals, just to continue to grow and become a national team here representing Denver.”
Comprised mostly of former collegiate varsity and club players — Melin played for the club team at Colorado State — FC Denver plays a possession-based, technical style of play that leaves little room for its opponents to generate any quality attacks.
With a defense led by former University of St. Francis (Joilet, Ill.) goalkeeper Michael Moberg and classy center back Joel Miller, opponents will be hard-pressed to score on FC Denver, while its attack is led by former UC Santa Barbara standout and Chivas USA reserve Cesar Castillo.
However, like any other amateur side anywhere in the world, it can sometimes be a challenge for Melin and Co. to get a consistent batch of players to train and play.
“The biggest challenge is getting people to have a commitment level of making it every week,” Melin said. “We only practice once a week and then we play on Sundays. But guys have their own lives, they have work, they have their own schedules, they go out of town.
“We have some teachers that go on spring breaks, one of our top defenders works in the field, so for almost a whole season, he couldn’t practice with us,” he added. “And with the travel, it’s very hard to get guys consistently out.”
Usually limited to the confines of Colorado, that travel was expanded this past spring when — due to its Open Cup qualification — FC Denver was invited to play two friendlies against United Soccer League (USL) club Saint Louis FC.
“It was a great bonding experience,” Melin said. “We went out there with hope that we would at least learn a ton. Not many people (on our team) have played a team of that level so we were going out there, give it our all, learn as much as we can, and get a lot of playing time for everyone out there.
“It was unbelievable,” he added .”Just Saint Louis FC, they were super classy, they were very skilled, very well-coached. Off the field, their fans chatted with us after both games and during the games.”
Those fans, the St. Louligans, even chipped in some of the proceeds from their organization to help FC Denver, which had a goal of raising $6,000 to cover expenses for its First Round US Open Cup game.
On the field, FC Denver lost both games by a combined 13-0 scoreline, but according to Melin, the experience was invaluable.
“We focus less on the scoreline and more on how we actually played in that second game,” he said. “We learned a lot. If we just take the scoreline, we’re using that as our rock bottom and just trying to improve from there.”
Now the focus shifts to a team FC Denver is already familiar with, Azteca FC, a fellow Colorado Premier League squad that knocked off the aforementioned Harpo’s FC to qualify for the Open Cup.
Denver will host Azteca FC on May 9 at 7:15 p.m. local time at North Stadium in Westminster, Colo.
“It will be a very skilled, very physical game, very technical,” Melin said. “With two teams that know each other as well as we do and with so much on the line, you never know. It could get pretty feisty, but I expect it to be very technical and very physical.”
Both squads know that there’s plenty to play for, with the winner moving on to face the USL’s Colorado Springs Switchbacks just one week later.
“It would probably be the biggest game any of us has played in up to this point,” Melin said about a possible Switchbacks match. “And for some of us to do it at the age that we’re doing it — because we have a couple of guys in our 30s — for us to be able to do it at this age and at this stage of our lives and soccer careers, it’s massive. It’s kind of unheard of.
“Obviously, you think of the US Open Cup as a whole and what the potential of what you could do, with some of the amateur teams in the past playing MLS teams, sometimes it’s hard to just limit yourself to looking at USL teams, but what we just have to make sure to do is to focus on the Azteca team,” he added. “We know that if we win, it would be a quick turnaround, to play the Switchbacks in a week, but we have to get past this Azteca team.”