The quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup have two underdogs left. The Carolina RailHawks, of the Division 2-NASL, and Orlando City of Division 3-USL Pro, will try to win Wednesday night and move forward to the semifinals in the 100th edition of the U.S. Open Cup, one of the oldest Soccer tournaments in the world.
Of course, there is plenty on the line in this championship. The winning team will be awarded with an automatic berth in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2014 and the prestige of being crowned the champs of all pro and amateur soccer teams in the U.S.
Since the inception of Major League Soccer in 1996, only one outsider to MLS has won the tournament. That was the Rochester Rhinos in 1999. Two other minor league teams have reached the final, as Rochester lost in 1996 and the Charleston Battery lost in ’08.
There are a few other reasons that advancing will mean so much to Raleigh and Orlando fans. It has already been decided that if they win, they will host each of the semifinal matchups. They are on opposites sides of the bracket, which makes that even more exciting.
And, then, there is the elephant in the room. By winning it all, Raleigh or Orlando could stake a legitimate claim to an invitation from MLS to become a new franchise in the league.
MLS has no teams in the Southeasten United States right now and wants a presence there. Both Orlando and Raleigh, are capable of putting together substantial marketing promotions to brand a successful pro team. Orlando already has the Magic in the NBA, and Raleigh has the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL.
Miami, Tampa and Atlanta would want their say about the prospects of becoming a First Division team (MLS). But, they are not the ones left standing in the quarterfinals of this year’s U.S. Open Cup and can’t prove their skill any longer on the pitch/field.
Orlando has not made any secrets about wanting to become part of MLS. Carolina has not been as vocal from its front office, but with its stadium has already expanded to accommodate more than 15,000 fans. The idea of jumping to MLS would definitely gain more traction by winning the U.S. Open Cup.
Here’s to the underdogs, the minor leagues, the guys looking for their breaks, working relentlessly to get noticed. To two teams looking for respect and one championship forever to be remembered.
In a century-old tournament, is this the year for another unlikely team to step up and win it all?
There are six MLS teams left ready to knock off the dark horse teams still out there.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com