By: Logan Alexander
99 teams. One winner. One allocated spot and opportunity to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League rests within this yearly knockout tournament. From the high and righteous nature of Division One, Major League Soccer, to the depths of the football pyramid, Non-League America. The famous names consisting of FC Dallas and Red Bulls New York amongst those among the lower ranks with glimmers of hope, AFC Ann Arbor and Chula Vista FC. This is the competition where the amateurs meet the pros, dreams can be made, upsets can be had, and glory can be earned and won. 2017. U.S. Open Cup. Welcome back you beautiful domestic cup competition.
Fortunately for Jacksonville, the club are not deploying one team into the competition. In fact, the senior team makes their way into the Cup via automatic qualification through the North American Soccer League, while the JAFC U-23 team has also qualified. Last year the Youth team finished 2nd place in the Sunshine Conference of the National Premier Soccer League, which secured them a place in the domestic competition. The rules are simple. For the U-23’s, win eight matches and they take the Cup. The senior side must win seven of their ties to take the trophy home, and the pairings for the first rounds have been announced for both sides..
Jacksonville Armada U-23:
Being an amateur team from the NPSL, the U-23’s enter the competition in the first round of the tournament. To reduce travel costs, as the amateur clubs of American soccer are not as driven with funds as the professional establishments, the draw was and will continue to be heavily based on regional match-ups until the later rounds. This being in mind, the U-23’s were always destined to draw another Floridian team, and their opponent in the first round is.. The Villages SC.
Last year, Jacksonville Armada U-23 did not reach the Open Cup as they were a new team to the league in 2016 (the youth team replaced Jacksonville United but did not begin play until 2016, United were last a team in 2014), therefore there was no eligibility due to zero games being played in the 2015 season. Ocala Stampede won the Southeast Conference of the Premier Development League with an 8-3-3 record, automatically qualifying the club for the knockout stages, though the club dissolved after their 2015 campaign. These events paved the way of The Villages SC who acquired the tournament place of the old Ocala squad. The process is kind of weird. Ocala dissolved, but The Villages SC are the relocated club, only forty minutes south of Ocala, FL, giving the Buffalo the right of a spot in the tournament.
In the 2016 Open Cup, Villages defeated Kraze United 1-0 in the First Round, progressing them to face-off with Charleston Battery in the next round. Originally, The team from central Florida beat the USL side 2-2(4-2 pen.) but after a claim made by Charleston regarding an ineligible player that Villages fielded, the Battery received the win and advanced to the Third Round.
Within the rulebook of the United States Soccer Federation… “Any player who plays in any part of an Open Cup match for a team, including any match in any Open Division qualifying round, may not be included in the Open Cup roster or play for any other team in the Open Cup competition for that competition year.” Also, if any club fails to comply by the rules.. “..that team is subject to fines or other penalties, including game forfeiture, as determined by the Adjunction and Discipline Panel.”
Forward, Paulo Vaz, competed for Boca Raton FC in their second round match of qualifying. The South Florida side advanced to the tournament through making the cut via qualifying. After Paulo Vaz left the club, he joined The Villages SC, who brought the player on as a substitute in the 86th minute of their first round match, and he later started at Charleston. Being against the rules of the Cup, Villages were eliminated.
The two teams meet on May 10th in Jacksonville for their First Round match. The winner earns a date with Tampa Bay Rowdies @ Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Year number three of the Cup for the Boys in Blue. Let’s not recollect back to the result we suffered during our first year. Quickly I’ll say, we lost 3-0. The match sucked. The team looked abysmal. We did not take a shot the whole match. Lastly, we were embarrassed, exiting the tournament the round we entered.
At the time he was in charge, head coach Tony Meola assured fans that having a deep run in the tournament was a priority. Last year, there was a sense of promise regarding the Cup. After the result in Charleston was reversed into the favor of the Battery, the two played in Round Three of the competition. Jacksonville secured their first ever Open Cup victory, winning 2-1 at home through goals from Patrick Otte in the 17th minute and Alhassane Keita netting the winner in the 108th.
Armada advanced in the tournament and drew a fancy match against Orlando City SC which was to be played again, at home, fourteen days later. After countless attacks and endless amounts of pressure by Orlando, they found an opener in the 62nd minute through defender, David Mateos. Jacksonville were on the back foot the entire ninety minutes and fell just short of the MLS club, 1-0, departing the Cup in the Fourth Round.
Here we are. The third attempt to make a run and have a shot at winning the competition. Jacksonville have been granted a First Round bye, as USL and NASL clubs enter the tournament in the Second Round this year. The Fleet will be at home on the 10th of May, watching and awaiting to witness who their opponent will be from a South Florida contest. The winner of Miami United FC-Boca Raton FC will face JAFC in the next round. If Miami United take away the win, Jacksonville will travel to Hialeah on May 17th. If Boca Raton FC beat Miami, Boca Raton will travel to Jacksonville on the 17th, where the game will be played at Jacksonville University.