Lansdowne Yonkers FC poses for a team photo before its Second Round match against USL Championship side North Carolina FC in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup (Credit: Lansdowne Yonkers FC)
The qualification process for the 2020 U.S. Open Cup is set to begin later this month with 88 teams from across the country looking to punch their ticket into the final competition. Up to four rounds of games between September and December will narrow the field until a select few join Connedicut’s Newtown Pride FC, winners of the 2019 National Amateur Cup, in the 107th edition of the tournament as lower league competitors. Those teams will join the final competition in early 2020 along will semi-professional and professional soccer teams from every level of U.S. Soccer as they all play one-another in single-elimination games until only one remains - much like England's FA Cup.
Three teams from the Cosmopolitan Soccer League will be attempting to qualify for next year’s tournament: Cedar Star Academy, Lansdowne Yonkers FC, and the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms. Due to the number of teams and geographical limitations, eight teams have received a bye into the second round of qualifying including the Freedoms.
Despite this luxury, the Freedoms staff and players know how much the tournament means to their club’s history. The three-time tournament winners made their name in the cup during the 1980s and established themselves as a dominant figure in U.S. Soccer during that time, going as far as reaching the semifinals of the 1984 CONCACAF Champions' Cup (now known as the CONCACAF Champions League) by beating sides from both Bermuda and Mexico.
“The U.S. Open Cup is special to the club,” Freedoms technical director Panayiotis Onisiforou said. “As three-time winners, it’s a must we enter for the tradition to the club. We are obviously happy to have a bye but we look forward to facing quality competition, it’s always a good measure to see where we are at.”
For the other two, the journey to qualification begins the weekend of September 21-22.
Teams from the Cosmopolitan Soccer League have won the Open Cup 16 times over its long history. Many did so under the tournament’s previous name: the “National Challenge Cup.” While some of these past winners have ceased play or live on through new organizations, four are still playing in the league heading into the 2019-2020 season.
The New York Greek Americans are one of the tournament’s most successful teams, having won the trophy four times between 1967 and 1974, and are tied with five other clubs for third most wins including Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City. The Greeks continue to play in the CSL in Division 1 and have won the league nine times.
The previously mentioned New York Pancyprian-Freedoms have won three Open Cups in 1979, 1980, and 1982. The later two wins came against Maccabi Los Angeles in the finals whose five tournament victories are tied for the most all-time. The Freedoms have qualified, or have attempted to qualify, for the Open Cup tournament every year of their existence since 1974. The team will also be playing in the top tier of CSL in 2019-20 and will be looking to defend its D1 league title from last season.
Finally, both the New York Ukrainians,1965 champions, and S.C. Eintracht,1955 champions, are still respectively playing in second and newly created third division of the CSL this year.
For two of the three teams trying to qualify this season, the journey starts next weekend. One joins the group of 36 teams entering qualification for the first time while the other (and the Freedoms) has previous, successful experience.
Cedar Star Academy (named “CSA Westchester” in tournament logs) vs. Jackson Lions FC (Garden State Soccer League)
Sunday, September 22 - 12 PM kickoff
Ramapo College of New Jersey; Mahwah, N.J.
Cedar Star Academy are entering Open Cup qualifying for the first time in its history and will be taking on the Jackson Lions FC of the Garden State Soccer League (GSSL) at home on Sunday, Sept. 22.
Coming off finishing second in the 2018-19 CSL D1 regular season and a second straight championship game appearance, the side has been one of the strongest in the top flight thanks to a mix of young developing talent and professional tier stars from sides such as the 2019 National Premier Soccer League National runner-up New York Cosmos and Morristown, NJ’s FC Motown, who finished 2018 as the NPSL runner-up as well.
Forward Chris Katona ended 2018-19 with league MVP honors for the second straight year. He lead the top division in both goals (28) and assists (12) for the second straight year on a team that also housed the league’s second best scorer, Bljedi Bardic (who only played the fall portion of the season, scoring 16, before returning to the NY Cosmos in the spring).
In an email interview, Katona explained that he knows the fight Cedar Star has ahead against the Jackson Lions.
“We expect a hard fought game against GSSL Champions Jackson Lions,” Katona said in an email. He would know much about the Lions as he's previously played for the team along with three of his teammates. “Owner Mike Durrazzo and head coach Brad Fraley have done a tremendous job through the past years in creating a formidable/highly competitive team. Like any other opponent though, we are focused on our squad, sticking to our game plan, and executing each game in the cup regardless of who our opponent is.”
Many of the players on the Star’s roster have played in both the qualification tournament and U.S. Open Cup proper. Katona, Matt Nigro, Emerson Lawrence, and Maxi Garcia all played for NPSL side FC Motown who have played in the tournament every year since 2017. Former CSA and Major League Soccer player Dilly Duka scored both of Motown’s goals in it’s 2018 First Round win over USL League Two’s New York Red Bulls Under-23 team.
The Jackson Lions are entering their fourth straight Open Cup qualifying tournament. The team achieved it’s best result last year when it reached the second round by beating Newtown Pride FC, 1-0, thanks to stoppage time penalty kick goal in the first half of overtime. Despite falling in the next game to the Pancyprian-Freedoms in penalties, 0-0 (1-3 on PKs), the recent year has been a historically good one for the team. It became a sister club to Atlantic City FC of the NPSL and won both the GSSL Summer League and the New Jersey Soccer Association (NJSA) Open State Cup in the past few months. The team was also runner-up in the 2018-19 Garden State Soccer League's Super Division regular season.
Coming into the season the team has already started to bolster it’s roster with new signing such as former C.F. Pachuca (of Liga MX in Mexico) and U.S. U-14 team player Alex Ramos, former San Antonio FC (USL Championship) player Jacques Francious, and former University of Rhode Island men’s soccer captain Tyler Dickson among others.
Lansdowne Yonkers FC is entering the U.S. Open Cup Qualification Tournament for the fifth straight time, having taken part every year since the process’s creation in 2016, and will be looking to reach the tournament proper for the third time. The team’s game will be on Sunday, Sept. 22 on the road against first-time tournament entrant and Garden State Soccer League side Clifton Elite FC.
In its two Open Cup appearances (under it's previous name 'Lansdowne Bhoys FC) the side has won at least one game each time and has an overall record of 3-2 in the competition, defeating higher division opponents on both occasions. In 2016, the Bhoys reached the Third Round of the tournament by defeating the Long Island Rough Riders of USL League Two and USL Championship side Pittsburgh Riverhounds on the road. The team was one game away from facing a Major League Soccer team but fell to the Rochester Rhinos, 2-0.
Assistant coach William McGrory knows that every game is a challenge but taking on a team in a knockout competition, especially one from another league, is always going to be difficult,
"We have never had an easy game and don't expect Clifton to be any different,” McGrory said in an email. “Anytime we go to New Jersey it's a derby of sorts and both teams are up for it. Coach Jim Kelly and his assistant coach Sean Kelly are still finalizing their squad but will likely not be at full strength till the end of September. Nevertheless the guys would love a run in this competition.”
On a squad lead by experience such as keeper Abdoukarim "Kabo" Danso, a former Namibian youth national team player whose been with the Bhoys for four seasons, Ovan Oakley, and Stephen Elias, the latter two of which combind for 10 goals last season on an offense with multiple threats upfront.
The team’s first round foe, Clifton Elite FC, only started playing in the GSSL Super Division (it’s highest tier) in late 2017 but the group already has a few achievements to its name. The team won the GSSL Semi-Pro division in 2016-17 and reached the NJSA Open State Cup Final this past year by defeating powerhouse FC Motown on penalty kicks.