Red Bulls
New York Red Bulls players celebrate Lewis Morgan’s goal against Hartford Athletic in the 2022 U.S. Open Cup Third Round at Trinity Health Stadium in Hartford, CT (Credit: James Nalton)

The Major League Soccer preseason is upon us and the 2023 American Soccer calendar is also taking shape. While the New York Red Bulls’ continue to prepare in both Florida and California, a new challenger has appeared. In fact, there’s six of them. The U.S. Soccer Federation has announced the amateur teams that will compete in the 2023 U.S. Open Cup First Round between March 21 and 23.

The Red Bulls, meanwhile, will enter the tournament in the Fourth Round alongside New York City FC and six other MLS teams. The rest of the league will enter in the Third Round. New York earned the bye thanks to it’s regular season record in 2022.

But what is the U.S. Open Cup?

For those out of the loop, the U.S. Open Cup is a national soccer tournament. It is open to men’s soccer teams at every level of the U.S. Soccer pyramid. That means it includes every professional team, from all five leagues across the three divisions, and a plethora of amateur squads. Arguably, the best thing about the it (outside of the chance for RBNY to win a trophy) is the inclusion of non-Major League Soccer teams.

Last year, the Red Bulls’ run to the Open Cup Semifinals began with a win against second division Hartford Athletic. Despite it being 3-0 it was probably one of the most fun games of the season according to multiple fans who attended.

Any team entering in the First Round is three wins away from possibly playing the New York Red Bulls. Between here and there are other professional teams, including Major League Soccer sides like New England and D.C. United. But they all have a dream to go far.

Let’s meet these teams, with their First Round match listed at the bottom of the page:

 

FC Motown – Morristown, New Jersey (National Premier Soccer League)

The closest team to Harrison is also the one that had the most successful 2022. FC Motown qualified for its fifth straight U.S. Open Cup tournament (sixth if you count the canceled 2020 edition) by winning the NPSL National Championship.

Playing out of Morristown, Motown’s first team in NPSL is an all-star team of professional caliber talent and younger college age players. The group’s success, including four straight Keystone Conference championships, has allowed the organization to grow exponentially. This includes a second team in USL League Two that’s partnered with the nearby STA Soccer academy.

There’s a reason why plenty of people, including myself, jokingly refer to Motown as “New York Red Bulls III”. Since its inception and up until its elimination from last year’s Open Cup, Motown was coached by former RBNY Homegrown Šaćir Hot. He was replaced by former Ghana national team player and one of the men to score a goal during the famous “red wedding”, Gideon Baah. On the field the roster includes names such as Roy Boateng (NYRB II), Joe Fala (NYRB II), and formerly included first team player Dilly Duka.

More recently, the Red Bulls recent draft pick Peter Stroud previously played for Motown in USL League Two.

Of the group, RBNY fans might be pulling most for Motown to make it to the Fourth Round. A game at Red Bull Arena, the same venue where they were honored last year, would truely be a full-circle moment.

 

Hartford City FC – Hartford, Connecticut (National Premier Soccer League)

Last year was a history making one for Hartford City FC. The team moved into Trinity Health Stadium, the same venue as USL Championship side Hartford Athletic), and played in its first U.S Open Cup. Despite being upset by Long Island amateurs Oyster Bay United FC, the team rebounded with an undefeated regular season in the NPSL and repeating as North Atlantic Conference regular season champions.

Attacker Alec Hughes led his team with eight goals during the regular season. That total also earned him fourth on the NPSL East Region top goal scorers list.

Despite losing in its conference semifinals in an upset, the team’s high points-per-game stat allowed them to slip into the tournament field as an at-large bid. A win in the first round would, almost certainly, set up a Second Round match against the professional Hartford Athletic. A win there could mean a date against the New England Revolution.

Maybe a cup-run to the fourth round could see the team playing the Red Bulls as well?

 

Lansdowne Yonkers FC – Yonkers, New York (Eastern Premier Soccer League)

Lansdowne Yonkers FC is one of the pillar amateur teams in the Northeast that doesn’t play in a national league.

While this is a second-straight Open Cup appearance, Lansdowne is not the same team as it was. Coming into 2022 the club was riding a 400 day undefeated streak across every competition it had been in. While it won against its First Round match it eventually did lose in the Second Round to professional side Rochester New York FC. That signaled a fall for the team as they failed to repeat as EPSL champions and lost in regional competitions repeatedly.

However the end of last year saw the club win four games to qualify for the 2023 tournament. This included wins against league rivals Manhattan Kickers FC and New York Greek Americans. Follow-up wins against Oyster Bay United FC and Vistula Garfield SC (NJ) locked the squad’s spot back in.

If the start of 2022 was the start of a decline, the club will hope this year’s tournament is the beginning of an ascent.

Roster wise Lansdowne includes a plethora of professional experience. League of Ireland veterans Dean Dillon and Daryl Kavanagh have called the side home for a number of years. Shamir Mullings, a striker who’s resume reads like a novel across the many divisions of English soccer, has engranded himself into the club’s foundation. He also serves as the team’s club director.

Edward Speed, son of former Wales national team and English Premier League player Gary Speed, also plays for the side. He’s scored two goals so far this year.

It’s rumored that former team captain Stephen Elias will be returning to the squad this year after winning a professional title with third division Michigan Stars FC in 2022.

 

Manhattan SC – New York City, New York (USL League Two)

The Manhattan Soccer Club, who’s history as an organization dates back to the mid 1990s, will be making their Open Cup debut this year. Years of middling results in the men’s game finally paid off last season. The team won the USL League Two Metropolitan Conference for the first time ever. Despite an early exit in the playoffs the group will be looking to take that momentum into the tournament next month.

As a member of USL League Two the team is mostly known for younger talent. Manhattan SC’s entire organizational structure includes over 80 teams and 1500 players from ages 3 to 23. However, that youth is also a double edge sword. Many players from that successful USL season last year will not be able to compete with the squad. The tournament kicks off in March, which is within the NCAA calendar. College rules dictate those players need to be released by their college teams/coaches, officially. Otherwise they risk being stripped of their college eligibility.

It is unknown what kind of team Manhattan will field next month.

The most recent example of the team’s caliber is forward Shakur Mohammed, who was drafted second-overall in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft by defending Open Cup champion Orlando City SC. Mohammed only played five games with Manhattan last year but was ranked eighth by the league on its Top Prospects list.

 

Ocean City Nor’easters – Ocean City, New Jersey (USL League Two)

The Ocean City Nor’easters are back in the Lamar Hunt Open Cup for a second straight year. An undefeated regular season earned the team its first Mid-Atlantic Division title since 2013. They’ll be hunting for a third Open Cup match against a Major League Soccer team in their long, storied history.

The last time that happened was in 2013, when the side lost, 2-1, on the road to the Philadelphia Union.

Like Manhattan SC, Ocean City will also be affected by the date of the first round. Last year’s Open Cup saw the team bring back numerous veteran players to try and make-up the numbers. That game saw them lose, 1-1 (3-4 in penalty kicks), to Lansdowne Yonkers at home.

In this past MLS SuperDraft four former Nor’easters players were drafted. These included fourth overall pick Joshua Bolma (New England Revolution) and forward MD Myers (Philadelphia Union). If the team advances, a match against New York is unlikely. Two wins would probably get Ocean City a match against Philly or D.C. United. But still, anything can happen.

 

West Chester United SC – West Chester, Pennsylvania (United Soccer League of Pennsylvania)

West Chester United SC is a long shot to play any New York professional team but that isn’t due to talent. It’s due to geography. Due to its proximity to Philadelphia the club is more likely to play the defending MLS Cup Finalist Union in the Fourth Round. No matter what team they play, however, they will be considered a threat.

United is a program with influence and success at the national, regional, and state level. Operating as a year-round program means that while they do lose players to college, they have plenty of talent that just competes within the organization year round. It’s why head coach Blaise Santangelo has been able to play competitive matches against teams like Philadelphia Union II and New York Red Bulls II. It’s why the team is the defending Werner Fricker Amateur Open Cup champions after winning the USASA national title last summer.

West Chester qualified by winning four straight qualifying games in the final months of 2022. In the first three rounds the team beat fellow USLPA league rivals Philadelphia Ukrainians, United German Hungarians, and Vereinigung Erzgebirge on the road. Their final test was against defending Eastern Premier Soccer League champion and National Amateur Cup finalist Northern Virginia FC (also known as “NoVa FC). A win, 2-1, once again on the road, secured qualification.

The team nearly played RBNY during the 2021 preseason but a COVID outbreak nixed that match. The team is returning for a second-straight Open Cup after a controversial exit last year. The team’s original Round 1 win over FC Motown was nulled following an appeal, with West Chester losing the replay.

 

First Round games featuring locals:

  • West Chester United SC (PA) vs. Ocean City Nor’easters (NJ)
    Tuesday, March 21 -7:30 PM, YSC Sports; Wayne, PA
  • Manhattan SC (NY) vs. FC Motown (NJ)
    Wednesday, March 22 – 7 PM, Marillac Field (College of Mt. St. Vincent); Bronx, NY
  • Hartford City FC (CT) vs. Lansdowne Yonkers FC (NY)
    Thursday, March 23 – 7:30 PM, Trinity Health Stadium; Hartford, CT
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