Seattle Sounders FC supporters are used to the end of the U.S. Open Cup, with MLS clubs playing for hardware in venues such as CenturyLink Field, RFK Stadium or Sporting Park.
However, the tournament begins on lesser-known grounds such as Schoenbaum Stadium in Charleston, West Virginia; Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Massachusetts; and Westside Athletic Complex in Danbury, Connecticut. And with the tournament open to clubs from all levels of U.S. soccer, its opening rounds feature lesser-known teams such as the Fort Pitt Regiment, the Southwest Florida Adrenaline and Long Island Rough Riders.
One first-round match at 7 p.m. Wednesday will be played at Mount Tahoma Stadium and pairs the Kitsap Pumas of the Premier Development League against FC Tacoma 253 of the National Premier Soccer League.
Exactly. And Tacoma’s newest soccer team believes a win Wednesday could do wonders for its profile and ambitions.
“It’s kind of crucial in some respects,” 253 technical manager Filippo Milano said. “We are a very new team if you consider that we formed the team in January, and we had to play the first qualification game in February, and now I have the chance of being in the United States Cup and playing professional teams is a kind of dream, actually. This is the emotional part. It’s related to the development of our club.”
Tacoma 253 was born with the mission of developing players with an Italian influence, preparing them to continue their careers in college or the pros. The NPSL is a national amateur league, with Tacoma playing in the Western Region against California clubs and the Spartans Futbol Club of Portland.
The men’s team is 1-1-5 in a 12-game NPSL schedule that started in March and runs through June. The club scheduled home games in Seattle, Tukwila and at Mount Tahoma High School, but hopes to find a permanent home stadium in Tacoma by next season.
Qualifying for the Open Cup, and being paired against defending PDL Western Conference champion Kitsap, has presented Tacoma with a chance to introduce itself.
“Winning with the Pumas would put us in a great spot in Washington state,” Milano said. “Right now Washington state is pretty much Sounders: talking about Sounders 1 and Sounders 2. Other than that, there is Pumas: They are pretty well-known, and they’ve done fantastic since they joined the PDL. But now for us is the chance of getting into the game with this type of teams. … It would be good for us to claim the second or third spot in Washington state. It’s not just about winning. It’s about doing well and showing everyone we are the real thing.”
Still, winning carries a significant reward, as the surviving team advances to a second-round match next week against the Sounders 2 USL team at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. Defending champion Seattle Sounders FC and other Major League Soccer teams join the Open Cup in the fourth round, scheduled for the middle of next month.
S2 coach Ezra Hendrickson knows that either Tacoma or Kitsap will arrive with something to prove.
“We know that regardless of which team wins, they’re going to come into Starfire with the attitude of, ‘That’s the Sounders. We want to prove to them that we can beat them,’ ” he said. “But I think that we’re ready for that. We (host OKC Energy FC at 7:30 p.m. Friday) in regular-season play and we’re focused on (OK) right now before we turn our focus to them. But it’s in the back of our mind.”