2019 TheCup.us Lower Division Player of the Tournament nominees (from left to right): Kevaughn Frater (New Mexico United), Devon Sandoval (New Mexico United), Blake Frischkecht (Orange County FC), Valentin Sabella (Florida Soccer Soldiers), Sam Fink (Saint Louis FC)
At its core the US Open Cup is a grueling test for any soccer team that takes part. This is true for all competitors but especially so for the lower league sides that start in the early rounds, possibly even qualification, and have to play at least two games before they even have a chance to face a Major League Soccer team.
While the big boys are usually the ones who walk away with the trophy and champions league berth, some players from the smaller sides make an impact worth commemorating. Following each year’s competition, TheCup.us honors a player with the distinction of being named “Player the Tournament”for their outstanding performance. However in 2012, an additional honor was added: TheCup.us Lower Division Player of the Tournament. The goal is to honor the players on lower division teams (Open Division, Division III, and Division II) who have stood out and helped their team make a memorable run in the Open Cup that year.
The award is voted on by TheCup.us staff, a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters, and select backers from TheCup.us’ Patreon. If you’d like to vote in this, or the upcoming “Player of the Tournament” vote, consider pledging $10 or more and help us continue to cover the US Open Cup and research it’s long history.
We encourage everyone to read over each players’ tournament resume and make your case for who you think should win the award in the comments or on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instragram).
Here are 2019’s finalists (in alphabetical order):
Sam Fink (Saint Louis FC of USL Championship – Division II)
Sam Fink was on the field for every moment of his team’s 2019 US Open Cup run and helped lead the defensive effort through the five games. In Saint Louis FC’s best tournament performance to date, the side only allowed three goals in their four wins, two of which were penalty kicks, en route to the Quarterfinals. Fink etched his name into his hometown club’s history books during the Fifth Round (Round of 16) when he headed in a stoppage time corner kick from Lewis Hilton into the net of MLS side FC Cincinnati for the 1-0 win. The goal earned him Player of the Round honors from TheCup.us.
Round 2: Started, played 120 minutes in a 1-1 draw (3-1 PK win) at Des Moines Menace (USL League Two) – NOTE: Only goal allowed was a PK
Round 3: Started, played 90 minutes in a 3-1 home win vs. Forward Madison (USL League One)
Round 4: Started, played 90 minutes in a 2-1 home win vs. Chicago Fire (MLS) – NOTE: Only goal allowed was a PK
Round 5: Started, played 90 minutes, scored a late game-winning goal in a 1-0 home win vs. FC Cincinnati (MLS). Was voted TheCup.us Player of the Round
Quarterfinals: Started, played 90 minutes in a 2-0 road loss at Atlanta United FC (MLS)
Kevaughn Frater (New Mexico United of USL Championship – Division II)
In New Mexico United’s inaugural tournament run, they became the second straight debuting USL club to reach the Fifth Round (Round of 16) following Nashville SC in 2018. Kevaughn Frater was a big reason for that as he made a huge impact, scoring in three of the four games he played in and going at least 90 minutes in all of them. His three goals in three games were the difference makers in his team’s narrow wins, including his game-winning penalty kick against the Colorado Spring Switchbacks in Round 3 and a stoppage time equalizer to force MLS side Colorado Rapids into extra time (where New Mexico would eventually prevail in PKs) in the Fourth Round. His final goal came just before halftime to tie the game in New Mexico’s 2-1 road win over FC Dallas (MLS) in the Round of 16. Unfortunately for United, Frater received a yellow card in the 59th minute in that game, which gave him a total of three in the tournament, which led to a one-game suspension. Because of this, Frater had to miss the team’s match against eventual runner-up Minnesota United FC in the Quarterfinals, which the Loons won, 6-1.
Round 2: Started, played 98 minutes in a 2-2 draw (4-3 PK win) on the road against Phoenix Rising (USL-C)
Round 3: Started, played 115 minutes, scored 1 game-winning PK goal, dished out 1 assist in a 2-1 OT road win at Colorado Springs Switchbacks (USL-C)
Round 4: Started, played 120 minutes, scored the equalizer in 2nd half stoppage time, and converted his PK in the shootout in a 2-2 draw (4-2 PK win) on the road at Colorado Rapids (MLS)
Round 5: Started, played 90 minutes, scored a goal in a 2-1 road win at FC Dallas (MLS)
Quarterfinals: Did not play (yellow card suspension) in 6-1 road loss at Minnesota United FC (MLS)
Blake Frischkecht (Orange County FC of the National Premier Soccer League – Open Division)
Frischkecht begin the tournament by assisting on his team’s opening goal in a 2-0 home win over USL League Two power FC Golden State Force. After helping OCFC upset Orange County SC (USL-C), the Player of the Round winner for Round 3 then played a game where everything seemed to come together. His side, the only one remaining in the tournament from the National Premier Soccer League, came out blazing against his hometown Las Vegas Lights FC. The two former U.S. Men’s National Team players who had been at the USL Championship sides’ tryouts the day he arrived, Eric Wynalda and Paul Caligiuri, stood as coaches at opposite benches that night. After assisting on a goal earlier in the game, Frischkecht’s 89th minute header was the game-winner it what seemed ike the perfect culmination to his career up until that point.
Round 1: Started, played 90 minutes, assisted on the opening goal in a 2-0 home win vs. FC Golden State Force (USL League Two)
Round 2: Started, played 120 minutes in a 2-2 draw (5-3 PK win) on the road against Orange County SC (USL-C)
Round 3: Started, played 90 minutes, scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute, dished out an assist in a 5-3 road win at Las Vegas Lights FC (USL-C). Voted TheCup.us Player of the Round
Round 4: Started, played 90 minutes in a 3-0 road loss at LA Galaxy (MLS)
Devon Sandoval (New Mexico United of USL Championship – Division II)
Along with fellow nominee Kevaughn Frater, Devon Sandoval was the other force behind New Mexico United’s offense. Sandoval started the tournament as a late game substitute but found himself as a starter by tournament’s end. The Albuquerque native made his biggest impact in his team’s first game against fellow USL Championship side Phoenix Rising FC. Coming off the bench, he scored both of his team’s goals, the latter coming in the fifth minute of stoppage, to force extra time and penalty kicks where his successful attempt helped advance his team through. In the Fourth Round he played a part in both goals in the upset against the Colorado Rapids of MLS and went the full 120, including another successful penalty kick shootout attempt that helped United eliminate the hometown Rapids. Sandoval played a big role in his start (and 75 minutes of game play) in the club’s 2-1 road win over FC Dallas (MLS).
Round 2: Came off the bench in 75th min., scored 2 goals (79′, 95′), converted his PK in the shootout, in a 2-2 draw (4-3 PK win) on the road at Phoenix Rising FC (USL-C)
Round 3: Came off the bench in 60th min. in a 2-1 OT road win at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (USL-C)
Round 4: Started, played 120 mins., scored a goal, assisted on a stoppage time equalizer (90+5), and converted his PK in the shootout in a 2-2 draw (4-2 PK win) at Colorado Rapids (MLS)
Round 5: Started, played 75 mins. in a 2-1 road win at FC Dallas (MLS)
Quarterfinals: Started, played 90 mins. in a 6-1 road loss at Minnesota United FC (MLS)
Valentin Sabella (Florida Soccer Soldiers of the United Premier Soccer League – Open Division)
Despite his Florida Soccer Soldiers playing the least amount of games of any other nominee, Valentin Sabella’s actions in the Open Cup not only brought success to his team but also himself. After playing 90 minutes in the Soccer Soldiers’ 2-1 win over pro side Miami FC (who would finish the season with their second straight NPSL championship). In his team’s Second Round match against USL Championship side Charlotte Independence, Sabella’s side was down a man and trailing late in the second extra time half. The Buenos Aires native took advantage of a poor back pass by the Independence and notched the equalizer to send the game to a shootout – all while suffering a minor leg injury during the celebration. He made his penalty kick which allowed goalkeeper Bryant Martin to come up with a huge save in the fifth round to send his team through, an action that earned him Player of the Round honors from TheCup.us. Despite narrowly losing the next game to North Carolina FC (USL-C), 1-0, Sabella later went on to be signed by Charlotte, the team he helped eliminate, in his first ever professional soccer contract.
Round 1: Started, played 90 mins. in a 2-1 road win at Miami FC (NPSL)
Round 2: Started, played 120 mins., scored an 118th min. equalizer, and scored the clinching PK in the shootout in a 2-2 draw (5-4 PK win) on the road at Charlotte Independence (USL-C)
Round 3: Started, played 90 mins. in a 1-0 road loss at North Carolina FC (USL-C)
Past winners of TheCup.us Lower Division Player of the Tournament
2012: Danny Barrera (Cal FC – USASA)
2013: Ty Shipalane (Carolina RailHawks – NASL)
2014: Scott Goodwin (Carolina RailHawks – NASL)
2015: Michael Salazar (PSA Elite – USASA)
2016: Diego Restrepo (Fort Lauderdale Strikers – NASL)
2017: Mitch Hildebrandt (FC Cincinnati – USL)
2018: Allisson Faramilio (FC Golden State – PDL)