Orlando City will open its 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup campaign on the road against former USL rival Charleston Battery on June 17. This will be the Lions' fifth appearance in the cup, with their best run coming in 2013, when they made it to the quarterfinals.
That run was highlighted by two victories over MLS clubs, a league theoretically two divisions above the then-USL Lions. The first was a 3-1 win against the Colorado Rapids at the Citrus Bowl. The second was an inspired performance on the road in Kansas City, where Orlando secured a famous victory at Sporting Park on a Long Tan goal in the second minute. The Lions' Cinderella run ended with a humbling 5-1 loss on the road against the Chicago Fire, but the cup run helped continue the reputation Orlando City had as a team that was ready to compete in the MLS.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup itself is among the oldest cup competitions in the world, dating back to 1914. The oldest cup competition is of course England's FA Cup, which dates back to 1871, followed shortly thereafter by national tournaments for teams in Scotland and Wales. National cups followed in various parts of the British Empire, including New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, and Canada. The U.S. Open Cup was actually the first outside of the British Empire, though this doesn't include league competitions that were also proliferating across the globe around the same time.
Like all open cup competitions, the tournament includes all teams playing in the United States. This means teams from MLS, NASL, and the USL all gain automatic entry into the cup. It also includes amateur teams from USL Premier Development League, National Premier Soccer League, U.S. Club Soccer, and the United States Adult Soccer Association. Even teams from Orlando's Central Florida Soccer League (the local Sunday league) are eligible to qualify for the cup through their affiliation with the USASA.
After amateur qualification, 80 teams compete for the cup, with MLS clubs entering in the fourth round.
The first U.S. Open Cup final was played between Brooklyn Field Club and Brooklyn Celtic at Coates Field in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. These two teams emerged from a field of 32. While many clubs hailed from the New York/ New Jersey area, clubs competed from as far away as Chicago and Detroit. In the end, Field Club prevailed over Celtic, 2-1, in front of an estimated crowd of 10,000. Field Club's winner came via an 87th minute goal by James Ford, a New Jersey native born to English immigrant parents. Ford served his country in the U.S. Army during World War I, he also represented his country one time, in the first officially sanctioned U.S. national team game -- a 3-2 victory over Sweden in 1916.
Two clubs have won the U.S. Open Cup five times: Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles. Bethlehem Steel Football Club was founded in 1907 and dissolved in 1930. They played in Bethlehem, PA, and took their name from their sponsor, the local steel mill. With the steel company backing them, they built what could technically be called the first soccer specific stadium in the U.S. in 1913. Most of the club's best players were of Scottish and English heritage. A great history of the club can be found here.
Maccabi Los Angeles is the other U.S. Open Cup historic powerhouse. This club was founded in 1971 and dissolved in 1982. Hailing from West Los Angeles, this club was founded by Israeli expatriates and fielded players from the U.S., Israel, Europe, South America and the Caribbean. As teams from the original NASL did not compete in the U.S. Open Cup, amateur and semi-professional clubs with immigrant players dominated the cup before the 1980s. A brief history of Maccabi Los Angeles can be found here.
Among still active clubs, the Chicago Fire, Seattle Sounders and New York Greek American Atlas have all won the cup four times. Since the inclusion of MLS teams starting in 1996, only one non-MLS club has won: the USL's Rochester Rhinos in 1999.
As Orlando City looks to add its name to the long list of winners, it's worth noting that the Open Cup has been won just once by a team from Florida, with the St. Petersburg Kickers winning it in 1989. Besides the Kickers, only two other teams from the South have won the cup, with FC Dallas and the Richmond Kickers both winning it once.
The Seattle Sounders are the defending champions, having beat the Philadelphia Union 3-1 in last year's final.