I think more than any other sport, soccer is capable of bringing the world together as one community. In soccer, any team in the world has the potential to play on some of the world’s grandest stages, from the pro club an hour away to the amateur team just down the road. National cup tournaments like the storied Lamar Hunt US Open Cup give every team in every nation a chance to compete for something meaningful.
By winning these tournaments, teams can gain entrance to their federation’s champions’ league and go on to compete against the best clubs from their respective continent. The winners of these continental champions’ leagues then go on to compete in the annual FIFA Club World Cup. The Club World Cup is a seven-team knockout tournament containing the winners of each champions’ league as well as the winner of the host nation’s top domestic league.
In the United States, soccer fandom is still in its infancy. Major League Soccer is barely two decades old. Lower division leagues like the USL, NASL, and NPSL are just now starting to blossom. However, unlike in other countries throughout the world where soccer clubs may gain promotion to better leagues as they win championships, the American soccer league pyramid is closed to promotion and relegation. This means that there is no true fluidity, so a second or third division club could never, ever hope to gain access to the CONCACAF Champions League purely by winning their league games.
That’s where the US Open Cup comes in. For the lower league teams, the US Open Cup represents the one true chance for small-city clubs to compete at the highest level. By winning in the annual tournament, these teams have chances to face out-of-country clubs in competitive play. The supporters of these minor league clubs are starting to recognize the significance of the US Open Cup, and they’ve come out to support their hometown teams in a big way.
As soccer continues to grow in the United States, the US Open Cup needs to come out of the shadows and into the spotlight. ESPN recently televised that record-breaking match between FC Cincinnati and Chicago Fire. With any luck, more and more games will be televised, and the USSF will feel compelled to increase the prize money. As the prizes increase, MLS clubs will pay more attention to the tournament, and lower division teams will start to gain serious rewards for their efforts.
In the future, I’m sure that the US Open Cup will be as noteworthy in the United States as the FA Cup is in England. Until then… support your hometown club. Go to the games. Cheer loud and proud. With enough support, your team could be playing Real Madrid at the Club World Cup someday.