New York City FC have a troubled history with the US Open Cup, the oldest soccer tournament in the United States.
Also known as the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the competition returns this year after a COVID-induced break with a new format that works in NYCFC’s favor: While most MLS teams join in the Third Round and will play games today or tomorrow, MLS Cup-winning New York City, Supporters’ Shield-winning New England Revolution, and six other top-performing MLS teams will join in the Round of 32, and play the second week in May. (Note that CF Montréal, Toronto FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps participate in the Canadian Championship, not in the US Open Cup.)
To put it another way, the NYCFC squad will show up late at the VIP entrance and know that their names are on the list. Tomorrow night, when the New Jersey Red Bulls make the longer-than-you-think drive to play Hartford Athletic at Trinity Health Stadium, New York City’s players will be cozy in their homes and apartments sipping antioxidant protein smoothies and watching Toronto FC game tape.
NYCFC should enjoy the respite, because the team have an abysmal record in the US Open Cup, with just two wins in five years. It's not just that the team have lost, it’s how NYCFC have flamed out. And to whom: NYCFC have exited the US Open Cup at the hands of third-tier side New York Cosmos (twice), Red Bulls (twice), and Orlando City SC.
With most of MLS-land buzzing with US Open Cup hype these next two days, now is the time to crank up the Wayback Machine and look back at the dumpster fire performances NYCFC have put in over the years.
2015: The Kreisball era
New York Cosmos 2 - 2 NYCFC (Cosmos win 4-3 on penalty kicks)
NYCFC’s inaugural season was something to behold: Packed stands, loose turf, Frank Lampard scoring with his groin. With the unsteady hand of manager Jason Kreis at the helm anything could happen. When the US Open Cup rolled around, new-car-smell-NYCFC faced legacy-reboot-New York Cosmos of the NISA in front of a capacity crowd at James M. Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University in Long Island. Kwado Poku staked NYCFC to a two-goal load that the team threw away in spectacular fashion when Lucky Mkosana of the Cosmos tied it up in the 90th minute:
The game went into extra time, and after NYCFC’s Pablo Alvarez (remember him? us neither) took a penalty that banged off the crossbar the game went to a shootout, which the Cosmos won 4-3.
2016: Vieira starts the benchwarmers
New York Cosmos 1 - 0 NYCFC
New year, new manager, same opponent, same result: Patrick Vieira might have completely transformed NYCFC, instilling the attractive, progressive, possession-based football that we still see in the team today, but he didn't give two figs about the US Open Cup. The Invincible fielded a team of backups when New York City once again faced New York Cosmos, this time at a packed Coffey Field at Fordham University in the Bronx. None of the Designated Players were on the game-day squad: No Pirlo, no party. Ditto starters Frederic Brillant, and Ronald Matarrita. Tommy McNamara was on the bench but didn't play. Nature abhors a vacuum, so when Danny Szetela put in the effort he scored in the 88th minute for the Cosmos and won the game.
2017: Unseen spirits keep the ball out of the goal
New Jersey Red Bulls 1 - 0 NYCFC
New year, new opponent, same manager, same result: Vieira seemingly took the US Cup seriously in 2017 when NYCFC faced New Jersey, fielding a full-strength team that included David Villa, Maxi Moralez, Jack Harrison, Alexander Ring, Alexander Callens, and Sean Johnson. McNamara started, as did Brillant. It didn't matter: Red Bulls forced a defensive error and scored the only goal of the game.
It shouldn’t have been the only goal. In the 15th minute, Villa slotted a perfect pass to McNamara—his shot went off the crossbar twice:
.@Tommy_Mc15 oh so close to breaking the @opencup deadlock...#NYCFC 0-0 Red Bulls pic.twitter.com/McmOneMb7z— New York City FC (@NYCFC) June 15, 2017
Later in the half, Villa took a shot that caught the post and landed in the goalkeeper’s arms. Somebody in New Jersey put a curse on NYCFC: It wasn't to be.
2018: Thank you sir may I have another
New Jersey Red Bulls 4 - 0 NYCFC
If you repressed the memory of the 2018 matchup, that's ok. It takes time to process trauma. Vincent Bezenccourt of the Red Bulls scored in the second minute, then it went down from there. The less said the better.
2019: The Domèball era
NYCFC 4 - North Carolina FC
DC United 1 - 2 NYCFC
Orlando City SC 1 - 1 NYCFC (Orlando win on penalty kicks 5-4)
NYCFC started the 2019 US Open Cup on a promising note, with manager Domè Torrent sending a balanced squad of Senior Team players and young hopefuls to face USL League One side North Carolina FC at Belson Stadium in Queens. Keaton Parks got the start, scored two second-half goals, and put himself on the path to becoming one of the most important players in the NYCFC squad. NYCFC put the game away 4-0.
NYCFC next faced DC United on a steamy June night at Audi Field in the Round of 16. Both sides came to play, and fielded strong teams. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring for DC United in the 32nd minute, but Alexandru Mitriță responded for NYCFC six minutes later. Then Ismael Tajouri-Shradi did this:
An exquisite finish from @isitj29 to turn it around... #NYCFC pic.twitter.com/gL8YjI4n28— New York City FC (@NYCFC) June 19, 2019
It was a different story when NYCFC faced Orlando at an even steamier Explora Stadium in July. Again, both teams fielded strong teams, but the wilting heat punished the players. Orlando scored first when Chris Mueller headed in a Nani cross, and NYCFC couldn’t notch a goal despite enjoying the majority of possession and taking more shots. (Sound familiar?) But then, a miracle: A goalmouth scramble in the sixth minute of stoppage time, a flukey defection, and a Moralez goal at the death.
That sent the game into 30 minutes of sweltering, sweaty, scoreless extra time. NYCFC had played four games in 12 days, and the players were depleted. Orlando were marginally better in the penalty shootout, and advanced to face eventual winner Atlanta United in the Semifinals. It was pure Domèball: NYCFC were the superior side, and put in the effort, and couldn’t get it done.
NYCFC returned to New York City, and lost to the Red Bulls four days later in Harrison.
Correction: An earlier version stated that NYCFC played the New York Cosmos at Coffey Field on the campus of Fordham University in 2015; the game was played at James M. Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University.