Fire

Why the U.S. Open Cup is awesome

The U.S. Open Cup struggles to get love and attention from American soccer fans so it's no surprise that it's completely off the radar for average sports fans.

However, what the single-elimination knockout competition provides is rare among American sports. Amateur teams can qualify for the tournament and face off against pro teams. Minor league teams can take on their big brothers from Major League Soccer. Upsets happen and fun match ups like D.C. United taking on amateur team Christos FC can create stories that typically only occur in movies.

This is similar, in a way, to how amateur golfers can qualify for the U.S. Open via sectional tournaments. However, these are teams, not individuals. Collecting and organizing a good team is difficult enough for a regular adult league, but think of what a team like Christos FC has to do to prepare for a professional team like D.C. United, as they did Tuesday in the fourth round of the tournament.

The team is based in Baltimore and is comprised of regular people working regular jobs, but also playing amateur soccer at a high level. Christos FC beat a minor league team, the Richmond Kickers, in the second round of the tournament and beat another amateur team, FC United, in the third round.

FC United is based in Chicago and some its staff has ties to the Chicago Fire (former player Gonzalo Segares, for one). FC United plays in the PDL, a summer league for college players. So FC United's players are still training regularly and some of the players are pro prospects despite the amateur status.

Meanwhile, Christos FC set up a GoFundMe page just to make the trip to Chicago to play that match, which Christos won 1-0. From Nick Eilerson's story in the Washington Post, there are more challenges than just travel expenses.

"Christos FC does not conduct practice, doesn’t scout opponents or study film. Game-planning typically occurs a few minutes before matches, when coaches pick a lineup based on who could get off work to show up."

The U.S. Open Cup is more than just fairytale stories though. It's also a chance for regional rivalry games that wouldn't have a chance to take place otherwise.

The Fire begin Open Cup play Wednesday at Saint Louis FC. With St. Louis not having an MLS team, and the city recently voting against a stadium plan that would likely have led to an expansion team, the only way these two cities, which have a rich history of rivalries in sports, can play is in the Open Cup.

Last year the Fire beat Indy Eleven, another regional city which the Fire couldn't go up against in MLS. The regional design of the tournament creates a number of these matchups in the early rounds.

The downside to the Open Cup is the lack of fan support. The Fire failed to draw big crowds to the three home games in the competition last year. The Fire made it to a fourth straight semifinal, where they went on the road and lost to New England.

Partially as a result of the small crowds at Toyota Park last year, the Fire will be playing a potential game in the next round in Peoria. If the Fire win Wednesday and win the hosting coin flip for the next round, the June 28 game will be hosted by Bradley. The Fire have played Open Cup games in Peoria before, most recently in 2011.

Part of the lack of fan interest is the fact that the games are played on weekdays as opposed to weekends, which also draw much better for regular MLS games. Part of it is the lack of knowledge in the tournament. Another factor going against it is that many teams use it as a chance to play younger or reserve players while resting key players for MLS games. Not all fans are excited to pay money to watch minor league or amateur soccer teams.

The U.S. Open Cup may never be as big as the FA Cup in England or many of the cup competitions in the rest of the world, but it is still a unique competition in American sports. Besides, what's not to like about the Christos FC story?