2 June ~ Tuesday night was slightly disappointing in New York. Hundreds of photographers, tourists and celestial geeks gathered on street corners to witness Manhattanhenge, a biannual event where the sunset aligns perfectly with the borough's east-west street grid. Then, at the appointed hour, storm clouds rolled over New Jersey, completely obliterating any view. But the US Open Cup made up for it. As MLS clubs entered America's oldest ongoing football tournament at the third-round stage, many fielded weakened sides against lower-division opposition. They clearly shouldn't have done. Of the 14 top-division teams playing on Tuesday, seven were knocked out at the first time of asking.
In his history of the game in the US, Soccer in a Football World, David Wangerin claims that the American game is "careless with its fragile history". Nowhere is this more obvious than with the Open Cup. The competition began in 1914 and has received little attention through its 98-year history. It was ignored by the old North American Soccer League (NASL) – which now serves as the second tier – and continues unchanged to this day.
While teams such as New Jersey's Cowboy Club and the Young Men's Catholic Total Abstinence Society FC of Massachusetts are long gone, names such as the Croatian Eagles and New York Greek American still evoke US soccer's ethnic past.
This week, New York, Philadelphia and Seattle won comfortably, but many other MLS teams struggled. On Tuesday the Carolina RailHawks beat LA Galaxy 2-1 and the Michigan Bucks knocked out Chicago Fire in injury-time, while the Dayton Dutch Lions scored two goals in the last 12 minutes to win over Columbus Crew. Both FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake lost at home by a two-goal margin, 2-0 to the Charlotte Eagles and 3-1 to the Minnesota Stars respectively. San Antonio Scorpions can now claim to be the best team in Texas after beating Houston Dynamo 1-0.
In the most dramatic game, New England Revolution took a 3-0 lead in the first period of extra-time against the third-level Harrisburg City Islanders. But Harrisburg fought back with three goals in the last nine minutes and won the penalty shoot-out. On Wednesday, Cal FC, the amateur team run by former US international Eric Wynalda, scored the first-ever goal by a fifth-tier United States Adult Soccer Association club against an MLS opponent, and beat the Portland Timbers. Eight MLS teams have now been eliminated.
While New York Greek American have won the cup four times and New York Pancyprian-Freedoms on three occasions, the New York Red Bulls are the only original MLS franchise to have never won a trophy. With so many top-level clubs already out, this could be an opportunity for the Red Bulls to break that unwanted record. But if the competition continues as it has this week, the next Open Cup champion may well play in the NASL or below. Ed Upright