For the first time since the 2019 tournament, there is a new way to qualify for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Earlier this year, US Soccer announced that the winner of the spring season of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) would automatically qualify for the following year’s tournament. The honor of being the first team to qualify via this method went to AS Frenzi of Central Florida, who beat Sporting Wichita SC, 2-1 after extra time in the UPSL national championship on Sunday afternoon.
The game took place at Segra Field in Loudoun, Va., home of USL Championship side Loudoun United FC. Both Frenzi and Wichita won their respective semifinal matches on Friday at Segra to reach the Saturday’s final.
— UPSL (@UPSLsoccer) August 6, 2023
Technically, Frenzi are the second team to officially qualify for the 2024 US Open Cup. Just under 24 hours prior, SC MesoAmerica punched their ticket by winning the 2023 USASA National Amateur Cup.
Coming into the game, one of the biggest stories was the amount of youth that AS Frenzi brought with them to nationals. The biggest example being 16-year-old Yan Diomande, who entered the Final only one goal behind in the golden boot race for the UPSL Playoffs. The striker, who players for the Ivory Coast Under-17 national team, made his mark on the game in the 8th minute. Diomande got the ball down the left wing, breaking away from his assigned defender, before coolly slotting the ball into the back of the net. It was 1-0 Frenzi early.
As the first half started to wind up so did Sporting Wichita. Despite a slow start out of the gate the team settled into the game. The breakthrough came in the 44th minute after forcing multiple good saves from Frenzi goalkeeper Andrew Ketelsen. Wichita wing-back Yuki Sekiguchi pounced on the loose ball in the box and fired it home. The goal came as Wichita had been peppering the Frenzi goal for the last 25 minutes.
The remainder of the first half saw both teams unable to break the deadlock. Both keepers pulled off wonder saves to keep the game tied. Sporting Wichita’s Rafa Furlani had multiple one-on-one saves as Fenzi’s youthful attack was non-stop, especially latter on in the second half.
Regulation ended with the score still tied, 1-1, bringing the game to extra time. Both keepers continued to pull out amazing saves. As the game entered the 115th minute everything pointed to this game being decided by penalties.
Instead, the teenager Diomonde stepped up to stake his claim. He curled the ball into the bottom right of the net with five minutes to play. That goal put him atop the Golden Boot race but also, more importantly, gave AS Frenzi their first UPSL national championship.
Frenzi head coach Tyler Westen knows teams always have different methods of building squads. But Frenzi’s youth first focus was paramount to its success.
“There’s a lot of different ways that teams have built their teams since we’ve been in the UPSL and from the beginning we wanted to focus on basing our team on youth players and placing them with the right experience,” Westen said. “We found some talent in guys like Yan Diomonde and I’m very very proud of this group of players.”
Other than the obvious trophy and prize money this win also birthed AS Frenzi’s qualification to the US Open Cup. A challenge that head coach Westen is excited for.
“Well, preparation is going in as it starts tomorrow. This experience is only going to make these guys better, we’re obviously extremely excited for this new challenge and can’t wait to get started.”
It is important to note that all other members of the UPSL are still eligible to take part in Open Cup qualifying later this Fall. While the UPSL is a “national league” according to USSF, similar to the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) or USL League Two (USL-2), it opted not to follow the “national league” track for Open Cup qualifying. That means they do not get automatic spots for multiple teams based on league performance.
2023 United Premier Soccer League Spring National Championship Broadcast