There are no 5,000-to-1 shots in Major League Soccer, not with its parity-promoting salary cap.
If American club soccer is going to produce the kind of Cinderella tale that accompanied Leicester City’s run to the EPL championship, it would happen in the U.S. Open Cup. The annual tournament brings together 91 teams from all levels of amateur and professional U.S. Soccer, and it kicks off Wednesday with 23 first-round games in places such as Striker Park in Glen Allen, Virginia; St. Pius High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Panther Stadium in Bonney Lake.
The latter will be the scene of the match between Sounders U-23 of the Premier Development League and Outbreak SC of the SoCal Premier League. It will be Sounders U-23’s second visit to the tournament. They advanced to the second round in 2013, where they were eliminated on a late goal by the Charlotte Eagles, 2-1.
“Always excited to play in the Open Cup,” U-23 owner Lane Smith said. “We’ve done it before and actually beat a team, and then had to rush off to Charlotte to play a USL Pro team. Very exciting for the guys, because there is a path. Every once in a while, an amateur team or a PDL team makes it quite far.”
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Sounders U-23 won’t begin its league schedule until the end of the month. That adds difficulty in assembling — let along organizing — the roster in time for Open Cup.
“The reality of it is we’re going to have players walking off airplanes to get to the game,” coach Darren Sawatzky said. “U-23s are really college kids who are getting out in their college springs. We’ll have a watered-down roster compared to what we’ll have during the course of the summer. The cool part is if you can get through these early rounds and get your group together enough, then you can start to kind of make a run.”
Despite the roster rush, Sawatzky pegs his team as favorites over Outbreak SC.
“They’re a men’s team that plays in the so-called premier league,” he said. “They have some former D-I players. Jason Boyce, who played at the U-Dub and played a little bit in MLS, plays for them — at the spry age of 40. They have a mix of older and younger guys. … They’re fit people that stay active and do their thing, but they’re a Sunday men’s team. If you can get organized and get the talent here that should be here, we should win the game. But you know what? Open Cups are Open Cups.”
That’s much of the appeal of the tournament. The first round features relatively unknown teams such as Outbreak, dotted with somewhat higher-profile PDL sides such as the Atlanta Silverbacks, FC Tucson and a handful of developmental teams with MLS affiliations. Higher-level clubs enter in later rounds, capped by the arrival of MLS teams in the middle of June.
Sounders U-23 usually plays home matches at Sunset Stadium in Sumner. However, that was unavailable for this match, so it was shifted to Bonney Lake High School. First kick is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.