Jeff Bradley: To the freaks & geeks, this is what the US Open Cup is

Last night, that was for everyone. The US national team’s thoroughly comprehensive victory over Panama in front of the greatest home crowd anyone’s ever seen in this country. That was for everyone, from the casual observer to the most hardcore fans. Savor it.

But tonight...

Tonight is for freaks and geeks like me and, I’m guessing, you. Tonight is the fourth round of the US Open Cup, with a dozen MLS teams in action, looking to advance to the quarters.

Now, understand, following the US Open Cup is not as simple as switching on the television or even as simple as blocking out the date on your calendar and planning on going to the game. If you’re going to watch the US Open Cup, it’s going to be on some kind of live stream. If you’re going to go to a game, well, you’re the type of fan who rolls with the punches. Kudos to you.

The Open Cup is many things, yet it seems many people like to focus on all it isn’t. You’ll hear folks say it isn’t promoted enough, isn’t visible enough, isn’t taken seriously enough.

But for the freaks and geeks, that’s part of what we love about it. And, truth be told, the USOC is not unlike a lot of cup competitions around the world. These competitions are in many ways a sideshow that drive coaches and front-line players crazy. Play all your regulars and they’re tired for the more important league match on the weekend. Play all your reserves and the next thing you know, you’re down a goal to some team that plays on a high school field.

READ: Full preview of US Open Cup Round of 16

Again, this is what the Open Cup is: For those of us who love it, it’s personal.

The Open Cup is a rainy night at Columbia University with a couple hundred fans in the stands watching World Cup stars like Roberto Donadoni and Branco play against the Dallas Burn. It’s watching Branco hit a late, game-winning free kick as good as any he hit in the ‘94 World Cup, but there being no cameras anywhere to record it.

The Open Cup is Rhett Harty scoring on a header out at SUNY Stony Brook, to help the MetroStars defeat the Long Island Rough Riders. It’s Tom Presthus stopping a bunch of penalties to help D.C. United survive against the Hershey Wildcats and Amos Magee scoring a Golden Goal with his chest to help the Chicago Fire get past the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

On the flipside, the US Open Cup is the Mid-Michigan Bucks taking out the New England Revolution and an amateur team named Dallas Roma taking down Chivas USA.

The US Open Cup is hearing people scream “How embarrassing for MLS!” when these upsets happen, but freaks and geeks knowing better, for they know that’s just the way cups are.

The US Open Cup is understanding that the seriousness of the event kicks up a notch when you get to the quarters, when the prize money (this year: $250,000) gets within reach. Again, this makes the US Open Cup a lot like so many cups around the world. They begin as a distraction, almost a nuisance, but then begin to take on a life of their own, a serious life.

Tonight, the US Open Cup will be about Ben Olsen trying to push his D.C. United squad to beat Philadelphia at the Maryland Soccerplex, as he tries to get something meaningful going in their season. Of course, it will also be the Union trying to inch closer to winning its first trophy.

Up North on I-95 it will be the Red Bulls taking to the intimate field at Harvard, where they’ll meet the Revolution. The Red Bulls are still in search of their first trophy of any kind.

It will be the embattled squad from Chivas USA trekking across the country to Cary, N.C., to play the Carolina RailHawks, who’ve already knocked out the LA Galaxy. It will be the Portland Timbers showing their depth when they face the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and Real Salt Lake showcasing their forward arsenal against the Charleston Battery.

It will be Orlando City, a name you might someday see in MLS, trying to take down the Cup holders Sporting KC.

Freaks and geeks know they’ll surely see an upset or two. They’ll learn the names of a few new players and coaches and wonder if they’ll ever see or hear from them again.

Enjoy it. This is what the US Open Cup is.