Amateur team Cal FC pulled off another shocking upset in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, eliminating the Portland Timbers, 1-0, in extra time. For the uninformed, the U.S. Open Cup is U.S. Soccer’s oldest national cup competition. As the name implies, any club can enter. So, theoretically, you and 10-17 of your friends could start a team and enter the tournament and try to advance to the stage where the professional teams enter later on. For an amateur club like Cal FC, the goal of entering the tournament is to have a night like Wednesday where the players can see how they stack up against the best soccer players this country has to offer and, with a bit of luck, pull off an upset.
Cal FC’s Cinderella run is more than a Cinderella story – it is a plot Disney could only dream about. First ballot Hall-of-Famer, former United States international and controversial figure Eric Wynalda took the reins as manager of Cal FC and literally threw together a roster of soccer outcasts a month before the start of the tournament. These are players who just want to be seen and discovered by a club that will give them the chance to play professionally.
That Cal FC defeated the Wilmington Hammerheads, a professional team, 4-0, on the road was a shocking upset and created the furor that lead to the ESPN article linked above. That they also did it wearing 2-year-old replica Chicago Fire shirts only magnified the gulf between the two teams.
Before Wednesday, the only MLS teams to lose to an amateur team were via penalties. Timbers striker Kris Boyd, who earns $2 million annually, missed a penalty in extra time, which opened the door for Cal FC to snatch the win in extra time.
While Cal FC’s run has been the most notable, seven other MLS teams lost their first games in the tournament to lower-level opposition. Going forward, hopefully this will bring added attention to the 99-year-old tournament. This year’s revamped format is proving to be an excellent start. In a soccer league that is structured in such an American way, the Open Cup does give American fans of all teams a little taste of European football.
The task does not get any easier next week for Cal FC, who face the three-time defending Open Cup Champions, the Seattle Sounders. This is likely where the clock will strike midnight, but if a few Cal FC players get a first or second chance at the pros, it will all be worth it.