The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup begins in full-force this week with the beginning of first round action that started with one game on Tuesday — and a full slate of games on Wednesday.
As the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the U.S. — the Open Cup is a wonderful showcase that brings together everyone from underdog amateur teams to the teams playing at the highest professional levels in the United States.
Believe it or not, Western Pennsylvania has a rich history of teams and participants that not only have been a part of the competition, but have played in the Cup finals and won the entire thing.
While our local pro team, Riverhounds SC has stumbled in the past two years, one local team, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon made a splash a year ago.
Tartan Devils, Champions of the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League, entered the 2017 proper tournament as an amateur qualifying team. They traveled to Indiana to take on the Derby City Rovers — and came away with a thrilling win in a match that went to penalty kicks.
Traveling with — and covering the Tartan Devils Oak Avalon last year, I can attest that there’s a special sense of excitement for players from both sides to be a part of this tournament. There’s definitely some nerves that come with it — but also a very wonderful opportunity.
It’s a great way for players to have a chance to continue playing the game they love, even if they’ve moved on in their adult lives and no longer have aspirations or weren’t able to play at a higher level.
Of local interest this year — the Pittsburgh Riverhounds will begin play on the road next Wednesday, May 16, in the second round against the winner of a match that will be taking place at Gannon University in Erie on Wednesday night between Rochester River Dogz and Erie Commodores.
Rochester River Dogz (NPSL) at Erie Commodores (NPSL)
Gannon University – Erie, PA
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
Winner will host Pittsburgh Riverhounds (May 16)
This will be the first-ever appearance in the U.S. Open Cup proper tournament for both sides.
MORE ON THE COMMODORES
The Erie Commodores were founded nine years ago and their team motto is ‘Don’t Give up the Ship,’ a notable quote credited to Oliver Hazard Perry – a famous American naval figure and hero of the War of 1812. Yes — that’s the same guy who’s name is synonymous in and around Pittsburgh — being named after a local high school — Perry Traditional Academy and Perrysville and Perry Highway just to name a few.
Previously known as the Admirals, Erie’s NPSL side re-branded as the Commodores in 2015. Competing in NPSL, the Commodores finished as last summer’s Midwest Region champion, earning an automatic bid to this year’s Open Cup proper tournament.
Recently, Erie’s NPSL side has developed fertile recruiting grounds — and brought in players from every corner of the United States by taking players from colleges across the country and developing them into better players. Co-owner John Melody pointed to Marshall Garcia, a forward in Erie last summer whose strong play as a senior at California State Bakersfield last fall led to two Roadrunners coming to Erie this year.
“It’s exciting,” assistant coach and former forward Billy Colton said of the Commodores making their U.S. Open Cup debut to GoErie.com, because “when we first started (as a franchise) in 2009, we didn’t know really what we were getting into.”
The Commodores are firmly entrenched in the NPSL a decade later. Now, they’re ready to leave their imprint on the national stage.
“We feel that we’ve recruited the best players that were accessible to us and with the most experience and the most drive and desire to make what we’re talking about work here,” first-year head coach Dale White said.
MORE ON THE RIVER DOGZ
In year where Rochester’s USL side, the 1999 U.S. Open Cup winning Rhinos, are on hiatus due to financial reasons, the River Dogz will be the lone Western NY’s representative in the tournament.
Maybe then it’s no coincidence that these River Dogz are inextricably linked to the Rhinos, who remain the only team from outside Major League Soccer (MLS) to win the Open Cup since 1996 (the year of MLS’ founding). Team captain Jake Schindler was there nearly 20 years ago, as the team’s ball-boy, and current River Dogz coach, Doug Miller, scored the winning goal for the Rhinos in the 1999 Open Cup
For a fun read about the River Dogz, see the link below from an article on them on USSoccer.com