Cinderella cup runs excite American fans

Locria Courtright, Assistant Sports Editor

Every year, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup produces Cinderella runs, or games resulting in low ranking teams making it farther than expected. In the 2017 edition, two teams stood out with their surprise runs and are still being talked about.

Christos FC was the first team to win fans’ hearts across the country. The team plays in the Maryland Major Soccer League.

After defeating the Aegean Hawks and West Chester United in regional qualifiers, Christos went on the road for the first round of the tournament, defeating fellow amateur side Fredericksburg 3-0. Christos followed up with a stunning upset of full-time professional side Richmond Kickers, defeating the 1995 champs 1-0 in the Virginia capitol.

But all was not particularly well for Christos, even as the team had a seemingly easy matchup in the third round against another amateur side, Chicago FC United.

As a very small amateur side where every player had a separate job, Christos needed to raise funds via GoFundMe for its travel to Chicago as well as an amateur tournament it would attend in Cleveland a few days later.

Christos hit their goal of $7,500 in just three days and advanced to the fourth round after a 1-0 win over FC United, earning a matchup with MLS side DC United. A team owned by a discount liquor store would be facing one of the biggest clubs in America.

For a moment, it looked like the “magic of the cup” was going to pull Christos through. They led the game and kept  a draw until the last 10 minutes; but ultimately, the full-time professionals’ superior conditioning showed itself, as DC scored three goals against a tired Christos side after the 80th minute, prevailing 4-1.

In Ohio, another wonderful Open Cup story was being written, with FC Cincinnati winning the hearts of the country as well.

FCC, who play in the second division of U.S. soccer, the United Soccer League, made the deepest run by a non-MLS side since the 2011 Richmond Kickers, earning a semifinal spot.

FCC saw outstanding attendance in their run, with three crowds of over 30,000, all of which set records for the largest attendance in the tournament outside of the final.

Cincinnati entered the tournament in the second round and worked their way past amateur side AFC Cleveland, fellow USL side Louisville City and MLS side Columbus Crew all by 1-0 scorelines, setting up a showdown with MLS side Chicago Fire.

Chicago were riding a 10-match unbeaten run across all competitions. The game saw a national television audience on ESPN, a channel that normally only showed the Open Cup Final.

The game went scoreless, and eventually to penalties, though not for lack of chances; the two goalkeepers, Matt Lampson of Chicago and Mitch Hildebrandt of FCC, came up with a number of big saves.

But it was Hildebrandt who had the last laugh, saving three of the four penalties he faced as Cincinnati won, and he became a U.S. soccer celebrity almost overnight.

FCC would defeat fellow second tier side Miami 1-0 in the quarter finals, and opened up a 2-0 lead against MLS’s New York Red Bulls in the semi with 20 minutes remaining; for a moment, it looked like Cinderella would bite again. But the visiting Red Bulls rallied and won 3-2 in extra time, stunning the 33,250 at Nippert Stadium.

While either the Red Bulls or Sporting Kansas City will win the Open Cup, Christos FC and FC Cincinnati won the hearts of a nation.