LHUSOpenCupLogoDating back to 1913, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the oldest cup competition in United States soccer and is among the oldest in the world. Open to all affiliated amateur and professional teams in the United States, the annual U.S. Open Cup is the second-oldest continually-operating cup competition in the world (Irish Cup is the oldest).

In a nutshell, the U.S. Open Cup is very similar to domestic cup competitions popular throughout Europe, South America and the rest of the world. Cup competitions, which usually run concurrent with a country’s league season, are open in the early stages to any club that can qualify, giving local amateur teams a chance to compete against the best teams a country has to offer.

In leagues like the English Premier League, the Serie A in Italy and the Bundesliga in Germany, cup competitions are prestigious tournaments waged between a country’s strongest teams like Manchester United, AC Milan and Bayern Munich, and smaller teams like Watford F.C. in England, a small-time club that hit it big in 1984 by making it all the way to the F.A. Cup Final. Just two years ago, unfashionable Chesterfield of the Second Division (the third flight in England) advanced to the semi-finals of the 1997 F.A. Cup in England before finally losing.

The winner of each country’s domestic cup competition, in addition to taking home the prize money, is automatically placed into a tournament to compete against neighboring countries cup winners. In Europe this tournament is known as the Cup Winners’ Cup competition, and in North and Central America it is the CONCACAF Cup Winners’ Cup, which was first competed in 1992.

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As the oldest, annual team tournament in U.S. sports history, the U.S. Open Cup dates back to 1914 when the Brooklyn Field Club won the first national title by defeating the Brooklyn Celtics in Pawtucket, R.I. First instituted as the National Challenge Cup under the aegis of the United States Football Association, it was conceived as a competition open to all players (amateur and professional) and based upon England’s Football Association Cup format.

During the Open Cup’s early years, teams sponsored by industry in the East’s urban centers dominated the competition. Bethlehem Steel (Pa.) won four Open Cup titles between 1915 and 1919, while Fall River F.C. (Mass.) won five national crowns between 1917 and 1931, tying Bethlehem Steel (a winner also in 1926) and Maccabees S.C. of Los Angeles (1973, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1981) as the tournament’s only five-time winners.

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Although there have been numerous back-to-back winners (eight overall by seven different teams), only Greek American AA of New York, N.Y. have won three consecutive crowns (1967-1969).

While teams sponsored by industries in the East’s urban centers dominated the Men’s Open and Amateur Cups until the 1950s, the teams from the West and Midwest have flexed their muscles in the later years. In fact, California alone has garnered the lion’s share of success, winning 10 titles since 1973. Missouri, Illinois and Florida have also appeared regularly on the winner’s list.

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Although it is now a complete “knock-out” tournament, with a few exceptions the U.S. Open Cup final was a two-leg, home-and-away series between 1928 and 1968.

Despite the prominence of the North American Soccer League from 1967 to 1984, NASL teams rarely showed the inclination to enter the U.S. Open Cup competition. In fact, until the emergence of Major League Soccer, full professional teams were almost non-existent in the competition. That has changed in the last four years, though, with MLS taking part since 1996, thus helping to make the tournament a true “national” championship.

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Due to increased sponsorship and greater media attention, the Open Cup is now beginning to enjoy a prominence equal to its importance as America’s “open” soccer championship.