And then there were two.
A journey that began months ago with nearly 100 amateur, semi-pro and professional sides has reached its pinnacle, as the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final takes place on Wednesday. Sporting Kansas City will host the New York Red Bulls in the conclusion of this year's edition of the nation's oldest tournament (9 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).
The single-elimination tournament is contested separately from MLS play, with teams from every level of American soccer eligible to compete.
Read on for more on just what the tournament is all about:
What is the Open Cup?
Founded in 1914 and currently organized by U.S. Soccer, the Open Cup is the longest-running national soccer competition in the US. The 2017 edition is being contested by 99 clubs from all divisions of American soccer. MLS clubs join in the fourth round, where they meet teams from American soccer’s lower divisions – NASL, USL and semi-pro and amateur leagues – for a spot in the Round of 16.
The 2017 tournament is the 104th edition of the Open Cup. It officially kicked off in May, when 56 amateur clubs contested the first round. USL and NASL teams entered in the second round.
Thirteen teams – three from NASL, nine from USL and one amateur side – advanced out of the third round to take on MLS teams, and the tournament continued with the Round of 16 on June 13 and the quarterfinals starting on July 7, with the last surviving non-MLS team, USL's FC Cincinnati, falling to the Red Bulls in the semifinals on August 15.
What does the champion win?
In addition to lifting the U.S. Open Cup trophy and receiving a whole bunch of glory, the 2017 U.S. Open Cup champion will net a berth in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League and pick up $250,000 in prize money.
The runner-up won’t walk away empty-handed – they’ll grab $60,000 in prize money. Additionally, the team that advances furthest from each lower division receives $15,000.
Who has the most titles?
Two teams from the early days of American soccer – Bethlehem Steel FC and Maccabi Los Angeles – are tied for the most titles in Open Cup history, both with five championships.
Sponsored by the Bethlehem Steel corporation, Bethlehem Steel FC were based in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and won the tournament in 1915, 1916, 1918, 1919 and 1926. Maccabi Los Angeles came had their run of prominence five decades later, winning the Open Cup in 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1981.
Five clubs have won four titles, including the Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders from MLS. The Fire did their damage early in their history, winning the USOC in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006. Seattle won three-straight Open Cup titles immediately after they entered MLS, taking the trophy in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before winning for a fourth time in 2014.
Sporting KC have done well in the tournament in recent years, winning in 2012 and 2015. Along with D.C. United, they’re one of two MLS clubs with three Open Cup titles. FC Dallas won their second Open Cup title last year.
Why should you care?
Apart from the fact that it’s one of only three trophies available to most US-based MLS teams each year, the U.S. Open Cup is usually wildly entertaining.
Teams from different leagues facing off can make for some interesting matches, and the single-elimination format always produces a few insane contests. Plus, there’s always the potential for a Cinderella run, with amateur clubs taking their best shot against star-studded MLS rosters.
Not insignificantly, the Open Cup is also the shortest route American MLS clubs have to the CONCACAF Champions League. If you want continental glory as a fan of a US-based MLS team, the quickest way to get there is to win the Open Cup.