By Michael Preston
Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff and Best made history on the soccer fields of the United States in the days of the original North American Soccer League, but those great names of the world game never competed in America’s most illustrious and historic domestic competition.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup celebrates its centenary in 2013, but NASL teams will enter for only the second time in the competition’s long history, having made their belated debut in 2012 once the new league received sanctioning from US Soccer.
The six US based NASL teams – Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Minnesota United FC, San Antonio Scorpions and Tampa Bay Rowdies – will again enter the competition at the second round stage. They will join winners from earlier rounds and eight USL Pro clubs as 32 teams remain before the 16-strong Major League Soccer contingent joins in the third round.
“It’s our equivalent to the FA Cup back in my home of England,” said RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke. “It’s our chance to play against the big boys and see what we can do.”
There is also a financial carrot dangling before all who step on the field. The winner will walk away with a quarter of a million dollars, and for the top-finishing NASL team, there is a $15,000 prize on offer.
Making their bow in 2012, the NASL teams kept alive the traditional romance of a cup competition, as Carolina, Minnesota and San Antonio all progressed to the fourth round, claiming the scalps of MLS opposition along the way.
Minnesota went on the road and shocked Real Salt Lake 3-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Kevin Venegas stole the lead after only three minutes and after the hosts had leveled, Neil Hlavaty scored from the penalty spot and substitute Simone Bracalello made the game safe before the hour mark. The Stars, who will enter the 2013 tournament under their new name of Minnesota United FC, lost in the fourth round to San Jose Earthquakes, earlier 2-1 winners over the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Carolina earned a fourth round clash with Chivas USA by ousting LA’s other team, the defending MLS champion Galaxy. Pat Noonan had put the Galaxy ahead in the first half, but the dogged RailHawks pulled level after 75 minutes through Ty Shipalane. Brian Shriver, who finished as the competition’s leading scorer with five goals in three games, won it two minutes from time. Chivas proved too strong in the last 16, edging Carolina 2-1.
A second half Hans Denissen penalty crashed in off the underside of the cross bar and saw the San Antonio Scorpions past Houston Dynamo, but the NASL club fell at the next hurdle to fellow giant-killer the Charlotte Eagles.
Come May 21 this year, the six NASL entrants will again face lower league opposition, aiming to avoid a shock result, before moving on to become giant-killers themselves if all goes according to plan.
History of NASL teams in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup
Second Round 2012
Carolina RailHawks 6 PSA Elite 0
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 7 Fresno Fuego 2
Tampa Bay Rowdies 3 Jacksonville United 0
Atlanta Silverbacks 1 Georgia Revolution 0
San Antonio Scorpions 2 Laredo Heat 0
Minnesota Stars 2 Des Moines Menace 0
Third Round 2012
Carolina RailHawks 2 LA Galaxy 1
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1 San Jose Earthquakes 2
Tampa Bay Rowdies 1 Colorado Rapids 3
Atlanta Silverbacks 1 Seattle Sounders 5
San Antonio Scorpions 1 Houston Dynamo 0
Minnesota Stars 3 Real Salt Lake 1
Fourth Round 2012
Minnesota Stars 0 San Jose Earthquakes 1
Carolina RailHawks 1 Chivas USA 2
San Antonio Scorpions 1 Charlotte Eagles 2
- NASL teams have outscored U.S. Open Cup opposition 32 goals to 19 over 15 games
- Fort Lauderdale Strikers scored the most goals (7) in a single game
- Carolina RailHawks won by the greatest margin (6 goals)
- Minnesota Stars is the only team to have failed to score in a U.S. Open Cup games (1-0 loss to San Jose)
- Brian Shriver is the leading NASL scorer in U.S. Open Cup history with 5 goals
- Brian Shriver scored the most goals in a single game featuring a NASL team (4 vs. PSA Elite)
- The Carolina RailHawks have scored the most U.S. Open Cup goals (9) among NASL teams
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