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Our City: The Importance of the U.S. Open Cup

With Orlando City entering into this years Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this Wednesday, how important is winning it to the club and its supporters?

Our City is a weekly column focused on my perspective of Orlando City as a supporter. I would love to incorporate your ideas and stories, if you have something to add or a story idea please connect by commenting here or on Twitter: @kevinmercer225

Earlier this week I took a look at the deep history of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Even with this rich tradition, most MLS clubs and their supporters see the cup as an afterthought to both the Supporters' Shield and the MLS Cup.

With a trophy, prize money, potential lucrative home games, and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League on the line, it seems like an opportunity in the waiting for an eager club like Orlando City. The Lions used the Open Cup during their USL days to provide proof their club was MLS ready. With a number of historic wins and a nice cup run to the quarterfinals in 2013, the club showed just what the cup could do for a team's confidence and image.

While a Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup are still within the realm of possibility this season, success in this inaugural campaign will continue to be measured in inches, not miles. The Open Cup provides a unique opportunity to play for a trophy this year and become the champions the ownership, management, staff, players, and supporters all know this team is capable of being.

The path to U.S. Open Cup glory is relatively short. With MLS clubs entering the competition in the fourth round, there are only five games standing between a club and the trophy. That means on any given evening, in a league famous for parity, it's anybody's game. Add into the mix weakened lineups from international call-ups and teams resting star players for a game they aren't as concerned about. It's anybody's cup.

As U.S. soccer continues to make its case as a globally important league, a strong Open Cup competition is critical to that overall goal. Millions of soccer fans from around the world tune in to watch England's FA Cup or Spain's Copa del Rey finals, making it both lucrative for the club and the leagues where these teams play. Not to mention the fact that in these top-heavy leagues, lesser known clubs have used their run to boost their image.

This year, Aston Villa played in the FA Cup, while Basque club Athletic Bilbao took the stage in the Copa del Rey. While both clubs ended up losing to top teams in their leagues, it was still a thrill for their fans and certainly a boon to their bottom lines.

Extracurricular competitions aren't the norm in American sports, so many newer fans to the game don't fully grasp the importance of the matches. While this makes perfect sense in the uniquely insulated national sports landscape, I'd also argue that putting a trophy in front of any American sports franchise makes their fans automatically want to win it. That is the thinking I have with the U.S. Open Cup -- if the competition is there, I want my team to win it. If there is a trophy in America, it should have purple ribbons tied to it by the end of the competition.

While the U.S. Open Cup isn't as famous a competition as its European counterparts, it still provides Orlando City's best chance to win now. As all of the long-time supporters of Orlando City know, there hasn't been a year we haven't won at least one trophy. Why should this year be any different?

The first test comes on the road this Wednesday against our old USL nemesis the Charleston Battery. A team I imagine would love to send us home early. Go City!