The recent resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic due, in large part, to the omicron variant, has handed Orlando FC Wolves the club’s first trip to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The Wolves were set to host the South Carolina United Heat of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) on Saturday. The winner would qualify for the 107th edition of the US Open Cup. However, on Friday, South Carolina United informed Orlando FC that they would not be able to play.
SC United, a team under the SC United Bantams umbrella, which also fields a team in USL League Two, had suffered a coronavirus outbreak among the team’s players and would not be able to field a full squad.
“The news came as a shock to us all,” said Orlando FC founder and player Bradley Welch. “We received official confirmation just one day before the match was to take place. We had been preparing for this game for almost a month. I think a lot of the guys had mixed emotions about the news because there was a lot of excitement around playing the match.”
Welch, a former pro who represented Trinidad & Tobago at the youth international level, said despite the disappointment, the team is excited to qualify in the club’s third attempt.
“Third times really a charm as we’ve entered every year since we were founded in 2018,” said Welch. “I think it’s also that much sweeter that as far as we know, we are the first Central Florida amateur team to qualify for the Cup, finally providing some recognition to a footballing region other than South Florida.”
Orlando FC were one-and-done in their first entry into the Open Division Local Qualifying tournament in 2019, and fell short in the second round in the 2020 tournament. This year, the Wolves were one of six teams that began the Open Division Local Qualifying Tournament for the 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in the abbreviated first round. After a pair of 4-0 wins over UPSL sides Deportivo Lake Mary and Oceanway FC, they defeated Miami Soccer Academy (National Soccer League) 3-1 to advance to the final round.
According to the South Carolina United Heat, they tried to find a way to make the game work.
“Every sports platform in the world, at all levels, has had to make changes and dealt with inconveniences in order to ensure a fair competition and most importantly fulfill their commitment to the fans,” said SC United Heat owner Nick Lewis. “It’s a shame we were unable to do the same for such a meaningful tournament that means so much, especially to amateur clubs. SC United Heat will continue to grow as a team and establish its dominance in the Southeast. We thank the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for allowing us to have this rare opportunity and respect their decision.”
“We will be back.”