The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open is an annual tournament made up of teams from three professional soccer leagues in North America. Teams from the North American Soccer League, United Soccer League, and of course, Major League Soccer, compete in this mammoth tournament for a chance to be crowned U.S. Open Champions. This year provided some interesting storylines, both on and off the field. With the MLS looking to add expansion teams in the near future, the lower-level organizations had much more to prove this year than in years past. One team stood out above the rest and came very close to defying the odds and making a run to the title game. FC Cincinnati, out of the USL, strung together a flurry of upset victories on its way to the U.S. Open semifinals.
A Cinderella Story
FC Cincinnati began the tournament with a couple of 1-0 wins against NPSL’s AFC Cleveland and USL’s Louisville City FC. As the team was gaining momentum, they headed into their first real test in round three against MLS squad Columbus Crew SC. Although it’s interleague competition, these two teams were playing for more than just a spot in the next round. FC Cincinnati has its eyes set on an MLS expansion slot, so these two Ohio teams would be battling for fans, not to mention they would most likely end up in the same division, creating an instant rivalry. Cincinnati was able to squeak out the victory by a score of 1-0.
Next was the Chicago Fire, an MLS powerhouse. It was a back-and-forth battle throughout, but after the whistle was blown and the score was knotted up at zero, FC Cincinnati was able to knock off the heavy favorites with a 3-1 advantage in penalty kicks. The soccer world was put on notice after this huge upset, and FC Cincinnati was poised for a Championship run.
After another impressive 1-0 win over Miami FC, another team vying for an expansion spot, Cincinnati was headed back home to face the New York Red Bulls of the MLS. After leading for much of the game, it was clear that this team could compete with anyone in Major League Soccer. It looked like they were on their way to the title game when the Red Bulls rallied late to end their underdog streak with a final score of 3-2.
New York will head to Kansas City to take on Sporting K.C. in the U.S. Open Championship, while FC Cincinnati continues to show its worth to the MLS expansion committee. One thing is for sure, they have the fan base and the talent to make a splash in the big leagues.