When the Colorado Rapids return to Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday night they will be returning to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the first time since June 12, 2019.
Covid caused the cancellation of the knockout cup in 2020 and 2021. This halted a competition which had been contested since 1913.
The Rapids’ previous involvement was against New Mexico United in round four of the 2019 version, with the lower league side squeaking through via a penalty shootout.
New Mexico United won at FC Dallas in the next round before being dumped out of the competition 6-1 at the quarterfinals stage, by eventual runners-up Minnesota United. The Loons lost out to Atlanta United in the final, 2-1.
Wednesday will bring the Loons and the Rapids together for the second time this season. They have already faced each other in Minnesota, with the Loons triumphing 3-1 in mid-April, but this will be a first meeting in what is the oldest soccer competition still active in the United States.
The early days of the competition were an indicator as to where the popularity lay within the sport, with the Open Cup - originally named the National Challenge Cup - dominated by clubs in the east.
Brooklyn Field Club were the first winners, lifting the trophy on May 16, 1914, with a late goal to defeat Brooklyn Celtic at Coats Field in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Subsequent winners would include Bethlehem Steel, Robins Dry Dock, Scullin Steel, Paterson F.C., and Chicago Bricklayers.
Soccer was popular and on the rise, but the Wall Street Crash of 1929 is believed to have had a sizeable impact on the growth of the sport. Who knows where it would be now were it not for an event which led to the Great Depression?
You see, those hugely successful sides in the early years of the Open Cup were built around industries severely affected by the Crash, such as steelworks, dockyards, textiles, construction; all of which employed many immigrants, for whom soccer was their sport.
Following the Crash, the first thing to go within the respective companies was the sports and social side. By the time this nation emerged from the Great Depression, a generation had passed, the Second World War was upon us, and soccer had been overtaken by sports viewed as ‘American’.
Bethlehem Steel remains one of the two most successful clubs in the history of the competition. They, along with Maccabee Los Angeles (dominant in the 1970s and 80s), have been crowned champions five times, though Bethlehem Steel has not won it since 1925-26.
I write all of this to offer an insight into the history behind this annual competition. The silverware itself, the Dewar Cup, was donated by Scotsman Thomas Dewar, who made his fortune as a whiskey distiller. His name was associated with the competition due to his work to promote the sport in the United States in the early 1900s.
The National Challenge Cup - which became known as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup from 1999 - continued to be played for during both world wars. In all the years, the state with the most success is New York, winning the competition 26 times.
One such success from the state of New York fell to Rochester Raging Rhinos in 1999. That was the year they defeated the Rapids 2-0 in the final. The Rhinos had ended the Rapids’ run in their inaugural season. After beating Kansas City Wiz 3-2 on September 15, 1996, in their first-ever Open Cup encounter, the new MLS team bowed out to Rochester in the semifinals 3-0.
I stated near the top that this will be the first time the Rapids and Minnesota United have met in this competition, and that is correct, though it will not be the first time the Rapids have faced a team from Minnesota. They lost their only game of the 2005 edition, 4-1, to Minnesota Thunder of the USL-1.
This game was also played in Saint Paul, at James Griffin Stadium. All four Thunder goals were scored by Liberian Melvin Tarley, who had netted twice against Real Salt Lake in the previous round.
He impressed both MLS sides so much that they would both have him in their colors soon after. He first went to RSL, before landing in Colorado in August 2006. Tarley made three substitute appearances for the Rapids, before being waived at the end of the year.
In more recent times, the Rapids have enjoyed some battles with Orlando City, before they became an MLS team, as well as neighbors Colorado Springs Switchbacks. There is also the unforgettable showdown with an Eric Wynalda-led Atlanta Silverbacks in 2014, in which the Silverbacks triumphed 2-1 but ended with eight men on the field.
Three Silverbacks and one Rapids player were dismissed, as well as both head coaches and an Atlanta assistant. The match had also been held up for 28 minutes due to lightning in the area. One for the ages.
So, rich in history, high on drama, and with the additional carrot of a place in the CONCACAF Champions League at stake. What’s not to like?
The first edition of this competition, starting in November 1913, attracted 40 entries. At the start of 2022, there were 103 clubs bidding to have their names added to the Dewar Cup, which is housed in the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas. That number is now down to the last 32.
Catch Minnesota United vs. Colorado Rapids on ESPN+ from 6PM MT this Wednesday, with every chance we get to see at least some minutes for the youngsters hovering around the first team, such as homegrowns Darren Yapi and Sebastian Anderson, as well as rookie Anthony Markanich.