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An American Tradition: The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup

American critics of the Beautiful Game often complain that it is a foreign sport or it is a new sport, heck I recently heard one person call it a 1970s fad. Next time you come across such a critic, you might wish to educate him on the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, one of the oldest football cups in the world, and the oldest annual team tournament in the United States.

The U.S. Open Cup, which was initially called the National Challenge Cup, made its debut on the American sporting landscape in 1914. The final was held on May 14, and it was an all Brooklyn affair as Brooklyn Field Club beat Brooklyn Celtic 2-1 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, making Brooklyn Field Club the first team to ever hoist the Dewar Cup. The Dewar Cup got its name from Sir Thomas Dewar, of Dewar’s whiskey fame, and was finally retired in 1979. The Dewar Cup currently resides at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, New York.

During the Cup’s early years, football was most prominent on the East Coast, especially in the urban centers with large immigrant populations; therefore, it’s not surprising that many of the early Cup winners came from the East Coast. In 1915, Brooklyn Celtic returned to the Cup final, but lost to Bethlehem Steel, 3-1. Bethlehem Steel, one of the most storied clubs of football in the States, went on to win the Cup in 1916, 1918, 1919, and 1926, making Bethlehem Steel the first team to ever win 5 cups. The only other team to win the Cup 5 times was Maccabee Los Angeles. Those victories came in 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978, and 1981.

While the East Coast was a stronghold of football in America, so was St. Louis, and it was only a matter of time before St. Louis teams started throwing their weight around in the Cup. In 1920, the St. Louis Ben Millers beat Fore River 2-1. Teams from St. Louis would again win the Cup in 1922, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1948, 1950, 1957, and 1988.

Special recognition needs to be given to Greek American AA, the only team to ever win three Cups in a row, that achievement occurred between 1967 and 1969, plus another cup victory in 1974.

No NASL team ever won the Cup, but since 1996, all the Cups have been won by MLS teams, except in 1999 when the Rochester Ragin’ Rhinos beat the Colorado Rapids 2-0. The current Cup holder is DC United, but the 2009 Cup competition is underway and we’ll see if an MLS side will once again prevail.

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  1. Spaz

    May 20, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Yes, like those successful examples, and others such as MLS Cup, or the All-Star Game. Similarly, like those big events, US Soccer would just announce the venue for the US Open Cup and start selling tickets months before the tournament even started. One might argue that ticket sales would be higher, because fans know further in advance and have more time to buy the tickets. So, instead of having six WEEKS, US Soccer might have six MONTHS to promote the event and sell tickets, and more fans might buy tix b/c they put it on their calendars before they made other plans to do something else that weekend.

  2. John

    May 19, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    The problem with a neutral field is who will come to the game? Clubs are struggling to draw attendance in their own cities. I would love to see a final in a set place every year much like the FA Cup at Wembley or in other sports like Omaha is the host of the College World Series every year, but does the sport have enough attention in non-club cities?

  3. Brian Zygo

    May 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I think you’re right Kartik, they need to reform competition rules to make it more competitive and interesting. Cup competitions everywhere seem to be in a state of decline though, amongst fans and big clubs.

  4. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    May 17, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I appreciate the history of the Open Cup but feel it is an unfitting way to crown a national champion. If draws were done randomly like in so many foreign cup competitions and the finals were still held in neutral sites it would be a great tournament, but the richer teams always get to host matches per the USSF’s bidding process. That includes last season when DC United hosted the Charleston Battery in the final. I believe Charleston wins that game in a neutral site and as it stands was a one very dodgy call away from sending it to ET at RFK.

    The USSF needs to reform the competition rules if they really want this event taken seriously.

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