It’s the magic of the cup. A second division side drawn to play away from home against their local rivals, a “proper cup tie” some might call it. It’s David against Goliath, a potential giant killing, a banana skin, as well as a local derby. It has all the storylines one would want. An expanded away following that typically comes with a glamor tie is on hand for these romantic cup ties is on hand and prepared to make their presence felt. This match has the potential to be a classic. Unfortunately, no one else seemed to get the message and the stadium was about a third full, mostly made up by season ticket holders getting free tickets and passionate away fans.
My first experience with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was 10 years ago on a Wednesday night in Ocean City, New Jersey. As a child, I used to spend my summers down on the Jersey Shore and my family would frequently attend the home matches of the Ocean City Barons (since renamed Nor’Easters) of the PDL and sometimes I would double up as a ball boy. That night’s opponents were the Long Island Rough Riders, then playing in the old USL Second Division (third step on the US Soccer Pyramid). I was told that if Ocean City won this game and their next game they would play against D.C. United. As an impressionable nine-year-old, I thought the idea of this local team made up of current college students, who played their home matches on a high school football field, playing against professional side D.C. United was the coolest thing ever. I had no idea what this competition was or any of its history or tradition or its place in American Soccer, but I was immediately hooked. It would be another five years before I would start following soccer religiously and learning about the concept of knockout cup competitions, specifically the F.A. Cup, but there was nothing I wanted more than my little Ocean City Barons to take on D.C. United.
Ocean City, despite being a step below their opponents on the pyramid, thrashed the Rough Riders 3-0 that night to move one step closer to that dream date with D.C. United. In the next round, Ocean City met USL-1 (second tier) side Richmond Kickers and went ahead on four minutes. The shock was on! D.C. United awaited! Well, not really, Kickers scored the next four goals and went on to win 8-4 and Ocean City were out. No matchup with D.C. United but the two game journey and hope made me fall in love with the U.S. Open Cup. Ocean City would later get MLS dates when they played D.C. United in 2009 and Philadelphia Union in 2013, but by that point I had moved on from spending summers in Ocean City and did not have the opportunity to enjoy it.