America’s domestic soccer cup, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open, resumes this week. Like England’s famous F.A. Cup, the tournament offers a chance for every American professional soccer team, and every amateur club, the chance to play for the title of the nation’s best.
The tournament has been played every year since 1914, 101 consecutive years. Originally known as the National Challenge Cup, the first champion was the Brooklyn Field Club, with the following years dominated by Bethlehem Steel of Pennsylvania, who won four titles before 1920.
In 1999, the competition was renamed to honor Lamar Hunt. One of the pioneering owners of the American Football League, and the man who coined the term “Super Bowl,” Hunt was among the most active and influential figures in the development of American professional soccer. After seeing the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England, Hunt worked tirelessly for the next forty years to promote the game in his home country.
Hunt owned a team in the United Soccer Association as early as 1967, and his Dallas Tornado was a member of the North American Soccer League basically from its inception through its demise, from 1967-1981. Hunt was also one of the founding investors in MLS, started in 1996 – he originally owned two teams, the Columbus Crew and Kansas City Wizards (now FC Kansas City), and he later owned FC Dallas. Hunt was inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 1999 and given its Medal of Honor for his efforts in building the sport of soccer. Hunt passed away in 2006 at age 74.
This year’s U.S. Open tournament has 91 clubs participating, including all 47 U.S.-based professional teams: 17 from Major League Soccer, 11 from the North American Soccer League and 21 from USL PRO. The remaining 44 teams are amateurs: 19 from the Premier Development League, 11 from U.S. Adult Soccer Association, 12 from the National Premier Soccer League, and 1 each from US Club Soccer and the United States Specialty Sports Association.
The fourth round round’s 16 games are scheduled for this week, with fifth round games to be played June 30-July 1, quarterfinals July 21-22, semi-finals August 11-12, with the final to be played the last weekend in September.
Seattle Sounders FC is the defending U.S. Open champion, winning a fourth tournament title with a 3-1 overtime victory in Philadelphia over the Philadelphia Union last September.
This year’s winner will earn $250,000, a spot in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League, and its name engraved on the Dewar Challenge Trophy, one of the oldest trophies in American sports.
Image courtesy Harrisburg City Islanders.