Georgia Revolution v Colorado Foxes in US Open Cup
The first lightning of spring was bouncing around the sky as I made my way to the one of the two US Open Cup play-in matches last night. As is customary in Colorado, one can drive from downpour to dry road and back again in the space of a mile.
I was hoping for a dry patch around Shea Stadium in Highlands Ranch, just south of Denver.
I got one.
Rock star parking followed. Twenty steps to the stadium, and I walk right in on kickoff - and right behind the Georgia Revolution bench.
Almost a year prior I attended an early round match in the 99th Open Cup. On that day, KC Athletics and Real Colorado Foxes put on a good show in the foothills of Golden, just south of the world famous Coors brewery. Both teams played like something was on the line. As Eric Wynaldaís amateur side Cal FC would show MLSís Portland Timbers later that tournament, they were right to do so.
Perhaps like many matches in the early rounds of this ancient ritual, it was a sparsely attended, largely silent, and completely unpromoted secret. In fairness to all concerned, that match had been moved last minute. Some of the longest traditions in the competition are last minute draws and scheduling that could kindly be called slapdash.
This opening match in the 100th edition was a little different than that one in the 99th.
Totally unheralded as this game also was, I heard noise in the stands. I even saw subtle signs of tailgating. Sure, without liquor for sale in the stadium a few vehicles were probably just filling stations. As the heyday of the tourney coincided with prohibition, perhaps more history and tradition was contained in that scene as any.
Fuel consumed in parking lot came in handy when the temperature rapidly dropped after sunset. As fans repeatedly reminded the lowland Georgia players about the altitude, I reminded myself that the temperature swings here in Colorado were due in part to our great height.
Rovers v Revolution was certainly not being televised Ė but neither were the Georgia boys victims of thin air in the first half. They grabbed an early goal and carried the lead through halftime. They displayed perhaps a little more pedigree than their upland foes. Accents abounded on their bench, some Caribbean, some old country.
Rovers looked a more amateur bunch. Their touches a little less precise, but they created more than their fair share of chances with grit, determination, and all available skill. Classic soccer (and US Open Cup) storyline, especially when they knotted the game 1-1 midway through the second half.
I didnít know anything about either team. Didnít matter. I was at a US club soccer game with more consequence than most. As I roamed the sidelines and the stands at will, the do or die storyline was compelling and easy to pick up.
Tied at the end of regulation, OT was in order. Two fifteen minute periods. No golden goal. Rovers repeatedly crashed into the Georgia eighteen-yard box to no avail.
Penalty kicks would be needed to sort out who would proceed to the next round, and who would go home. Then a real flashback happened. An intrepid group of a dozen or so supporters poured out of the stands, threaded through an open gate and behind the goal into which PKs would soon be shot. Reminded me of Open Cup matches from the 1920s. Fans perched on the edge of touchlines, ready to involve themselves directly on behalf of players on the field if necessary.
As in those early days, there was no police presence at this match. Maybe the few generously libated fans cackling at Revolution players from behind the goal would have made a pathetic pitch invasion, but that didnít hinder my imagination.
Anyone could see the imagination of the Georgia Revolution players running wild as they celebrated the winning penalty kick. The player pile-on wouldnít have been out of place at Camp Nou. Their antics could have graced an FA Cup match.
With all these imaginations on the loose, itís sad that US Soccer shows so little when it comes to one of the worlds most storied tournaments. The US Open Cup is our greatest piece of soccer legacy. Still, nary a press release was issued by organizers. No reporters obvious the stands. The only bunting at the stadium was built in to the concrete faÁade.
Maybe itís just my imagination Ė but I think the 100th US Open Cup deserves so much more. Given any attention, it would be a driving force in the US club game.
Given none, itís still a great time.