It's been 15 years since Ritchie Kotschau lifted the U.S. Open Cup trophy when he helped the Chicago Fire to their first title in October of 1998.
It's been seven years since he last played in the oldest soccer tournament in the United States, that coming on August 2, 2006 when he helped the Colorado Rapids eliminate Real Salt Lake with a 1-0 win in the Fourth Round of the tournament.
On Tuesday, May 7, Kotschau will be back in the tournament when he leads the Colorado Rovers (U.S. Specialty Sports Association) against the Georgia Revolution (National Premier Soccer League) in an Open Cup Preliminary game at Shea Stadium in Highlands Ranch, Colo. (8:30 p.m. MT). The winner will face the Real Colorado Foxes in the first round of the 100 year-old Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on May 14.
"I thought my Open Cup days were over," Kotschau told ColoradoRapids.com by phone from work on Tuesday. "I never thought this was going to happen again, so it's kind of nice getting back to the world of good competition."
Kotschau joined the Rapids in 2001 from the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the trade that also brought Carlos Valderrama and Scott Garlick to Colorado. From 2001-2005, Kotschau represented the Rapids in 116 regular season games, 10 playoffs matches, and seven Open Cup games. He played his final two seasons with the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake before retiring in 2008 and moving back to Colorado.
It was at his job as a sales manager at Lifetime Fitness that he crossed paths with former Rapids invitee player Nico D'Alessandro, who invited Kotschau join the Colorado Rovers adult league team.
"I missed the game and thought, 'let's get back in a competitive men's league,' Kotschau said. "It's an open league so there's 18 and 25 year-olds, and few people older than me, but not too many. And it's fun. It keeps me young and keeps me playing, and hopefully I can pass some wisdom to some of the younger guys. The biggest thing for me is making sure I can get up the next morning to get to work."
Besides the 34 Division I, II, and III U.S.-based teams that the make the tournament proper, the 2013 Open Cup includes 34 amateur teams from the Adult Council category. The Rovers won the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) tournament which was played in Denver in March, to earn one of the four play-in spots. It is the first time a team from the USSSA has reached this stage, and the first time the Rovers, which were founded in 1992, have been this close to the tournament.
Kotschau, 37, says there are quite a few difference this time around then when soccer was a full-time profession. For starters, the team rents an outdoor field twice a week from 9-11 pm to practice, then play their Colorado Amateur Soccer League games on Sundays.
"It's a good group of guys that love to play soccer and love the competition," he said. "There's a lot that has been invested into what we do. It's nice to see it come to fruition and give an opportunity for some of these guys to shine."
Another difference is that he, and all the players, have regular jobs, making this anything but a typical game day compared to his time in MLS.
"Some guys may be able to take off or take half days, but with my business I need to be (at work) to make the money," Kotschau said. "I'm working 'till five, then going to sit in traffic to be at the game at 7 o'clock and we kick off at 8:30. It's something I'm definitely looking forward to."
Kotschau, who played 10 years in MLS and won both an MLS Cup and Open Cup title, sees Tuesday's match - and hopefully more - as an opportunity for his teammates to compete at a high level.
"I try to go and have fun with every game, and obviously you want to win," he said. "But for sure, this game is going to be a bit more meaningful, not just for me but for the younger guys. This could be one of the bigger games they'll play in - a national tournament with 64 teams from the country. That's a big deal for some of these guys."
The Rapids and other U.S.-based MLS teams enter the tournament in the third round on May 27. The Open Cup will culminate with the final, which will take place on Oct. 1 or 2, with the winner receiving a berth in the 2013-2014 CONCACAF Champions League.