USOC 2020 Qualifiers Preview
While the 2019 Open Cup ended, disappointingly, without a non-MLS club in the final, the 2020 Cup Qualifiers are right around the corner. Recently US Soccer revealed the full first round fixtures list, scheduled to begin the third weekend of September. San Juan FC, of the UPSL’s Mountain Conference, will be hosting the first-round qualifier against ISP FC of Portland, Oregon on September 22nd. The match will be hosted at Zions Bank Training Center, which is about 30 minutes from the city center of Salt Lake City.
The three-time UPSL Mountain Conference Champion (2018 Spring, 2018 Fall, and 2019 Spring) will also be participating in the UPSL’s 2019 Fall Season. Since, what appears to be, their first season in the league (2018 Spring) they have outscored opponents 110 to 38, giving them an aggregate +72 goal difference in the regular season. There’s every chance that they can translate this success to the USOC qualifiers. But they’ll have to get through a very trick IPS FC first.
International Portland Select FC, are a fully amateur regional club from Portland, Oregon. Last year they hit the qualifiers on all cylinders, beating UPSL’s JASA RWC and the Nevada Coyotes in the first two rounds of qualifiers. IPS FC would have qualified for the tournament proper based on those efforts in the past—but USOC organizers threw a spanner in the works and introduced an unexpected fourth round of qualifiers. IPS FC then travelled away to Turlock, California and lost to Academica SC, of the NPSL. Of note: IPS FC head coach Harvey Hurst has been fearless in his setup, and his sides always seem to be on the attack, early and often—it might come down to fitness and attrition.
While a very talented IPSFC showed a remarkable amount of grit and determination at home in the early qualifiers, their kryptonite seemed to be traveling away to parts unknown. This sets up well for San Juan FC, who are not only very good, but very comfortable at home and even have a warm up match this weekend when they host the Victor’s Tires Championship at the Zions Bank Training Center. Their 2019 Fall Season schedule isn’t up yet on the website, but it probably shouldn’t affect their ability to be at full strength when host IPS FC in this first round USOC qualifier.
Qualification for the 2020 US Open Cup begins later this month when the first round matchups between Open Division clubs take place on September 21 through 23. The largest division this year is the East Region’s DC/Maryland/Virginia/Western Pennsylvania area with a total of 14 clubs entered.
The area is loaded with talented clubs. Maryland Major Soccer League is represented by teams with prior USOC experience: perennial powerhouse Christos FC, league champion Steel Pulse FC and Izee Auto FC. UPSL teams, World Class Premier Elite FC and FC Millennium International, round out the seven Maryland clubs seeking qualification.
Virginia sends six clubs to this year’s qualifying with Woodbridge Soccer League represented by five of those. The WSL cohort includes Virginia United, who advanced out of qualifying to last year’s First Round proper, Alianza Futbol Club, CD Huateras, Doradus Futbol Club, and Germantown City FC. Rounding out the Virgina teams is SOCA of Charlottesville. Pittsburgh is represented by two clubs from the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League: Steel FC and Tartan Devils Oak Avalon.
The final club of the area is this year’s sole entry from the District of Columbia, Federal City Wanderers of the DC Premier League. The Wanderers are scheduled to face MMSL’s Izee Auto FC in the opening round of qualifying.
Federal City was originally formed in 2008 as the Washington Premier League side World Bank/City FC. As the years went by the club found replacing members more and more difficult. Then, in the spring of 2016, the team found itself down to only three members: Spencer Gottlieb; Ben Mingo; and Amit Singh. Instead of folding, the trio decided to rebuild the club. Singh took over the managerial duties with Mingo as assistant manager.
The team struggled to find and keep players in large part due to having to play league games on Sunday nights in northern Virginia. A newly organized competition, the District Sports Premier League, presented a better schedule of Sunday afternoon games in DC and the club made the easy decision to jump to the new league. More players were interested in playing Sunday afternoons in DC rather than Sunday evenings in northern Virginia and, following the move, the club’s player pool and quality skyrocketed.
Inspired by the move from the WPL to District Sports Premier, the team rechristened itself as the Federal City Wanderers. Because, notes manager Singh, “the idea being we go around the DMV area playing and winning games.”
The DC Premier League (District Sports recently renamed their competition) sends one team to the US Open Cup qualifiers. DCPL’s fall season winner plays the spring season winner in a one-game playoff to make the USOC qualification round. FCW won the spring season final in a penalty shootout against the fall season champs, Team Tevez. The two clubs met again for the USOC play-in game just one week later where the Wanderers prevailed 2-0. This will be FCW’s first USOC qualifying run.
“We're thrilled to have the opportunity to be representing DC as its only US Open Cup qualifying representative! We hope to make some noise, and we hope to get some people out to our game to make some noise on the sidelines for us!” says Singh.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is a competition like no other found in professional sports in the United States. This domestic single-elimination soccer tournament, which began in 1913 as the National Cup Competition, allows amateur teams from across the nation to enter and test themselves against other lower league teams in order to eventually play professionals in a scenario which most fans could only dream about. Teams like Clifton Elite FC and Lansdowne Bhoys FC will first have to fight through four grueling qualifying rounds to even get a chance at a professional side. This first round matchup includes two of the five teams from the New York/New Jersey area with CSA Westchester and Jackson Lions being the other matchup while New York Pancyprian Freedoms received a bye. Neither team will have any competitive matches leading up to the match which will take place on either September 21st or 22nd, the exact date and venue have yet to be determined.
Having lost in the finals of the New Jersey State Cup at the end of June, Clifton Elite FC will be looking to make a splash on the national stage against a team used to bringing home national titles. The Bhoys from Yonkers won the Champions of Regions in August, beating ASC New Stars from Houston in the finals, and were National Amateur Champions in 2017. Clifton Elite FC are based in Clifton, New Jersey and are currently competing in the Garden State Soccer League while the Lansdowne Bhoys play in the very competitive Cosmopolitan League in NYC, which they have won four times. Lansdowne Bhoys also have a very successful youth academy and have a partnership with the famous Scottish team, Celtic FC. I expect Lansdowne Bhoys FC will win this game, but anything can happen in this tournament which is typically full of upsets.
With the ever-increasing demands placed on clubs attempting to qualify for the USOC, it should be no surprise that when the pairings were announced, some of the matches were more like rematches than new qualifying matchups. That would certainly be true for Louisiana Krewe FC vs. Northshore United. Those two clubs just faced off in the semifinals of the Gulf Coast Premier League, with NU advancing to the Final, where they eventually lost to FC New Orleans. That semifinal matchup was the only time the two clubs met in 2019, as the two clubs play in different divisions of the GCPL. And when they did play, it was decided by a single goal. This is the first time either club has attempted to qualify for the Open Cup, so neither has a track record to look back on. However, both come from a highly competitive regional league that has battle-tested both clubs. In the 2019 league play, both clubs finished their season with 20 points, though the Krewe held a slight edge in GD (my favorite stat). Where the match will be played is still unannounced, but it may play a key role in who will have the edge between these evenly matched league foes.
Another qualifier with clubs familiar to each other is the Kendall Wanderers matchup with Safira FC. Both clubs play in Massachusetts, but KW has a much longer history that is near unmatched among qualifying clubs. The Wanderers club originally formed in the late 1970s and played in multiple local leagues, before joining the Bay State Soccer League in 1984 (then known as the Bay State Industrial League). Since then, the club has had a long standing run of excellence, currently playing in Division One. The club was knocked out of the second qualifying round of the 2019 tournament, after a successful qualification for the tournament proper in 2018. Safira won three matches in the 2019 qualifying tournament, before losing in the 4th against West Chester. The club was established in 2007, which against any other club’s history would stand out, and currently competes in the UPSL. I think this will be an interesting match up, particularly seeing the difference between a national league club versus a club from a strong regional league.