The BYU men’s soccer team has been invited to the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a prestigious tournament comprised of some of the top soccer talent in the nation.
The invite potentially gives the Cougars the chance to compete against several MLS teams, including Real Salt Lake.
The Cup is one of the oldest national soccer competitions in the United States. No other college team has played in the Open Cup, which involves clubs from all levels of American soccer, including the three professional divisions.
“Basically, it’s an open tournament from amateur all the way up to professional,” BYU assistant coach Brandon Gilliam said. “It gives you an opportunity to not only showcase professional teams in your tournament, but also players and teams that might have the potential to play at that level.”
This year’s cup comprises a record 91 different teams from across North America. BYU will be one of 44 amateur-level sides joined by 47 professional teams, including Real Salt Lake. The Cougars would need to win three matches before they could face RSL or one of 16 other MLS clubs.
“We’d love that. It would be an amazing opportunity for us,” BYU head coach Chris Watkins said. “It would be an absolute dream.”
The Cougars have played twice in previous Open Cups, participating in the 2006 and 2007 tournaments. This year’s invite breaks an eight-year drought of non-participation.
“In ’06 and ’07, nobody in the state knew what Open Cup was,” Watkins said. “Now that Real Salt Lake has been in it a few times, people are more excited.”
BYU lost its first match in each of the prior cups.
“It’s tough. I mean, we play in a league with men,” Watkins said. “Either former professionals or up-and-coming professionals. These guys know how to play.”
The Cougars are optimistic despite their winless history in the Open Cup, and they are looking forward to the boost the tournament will give them in their regular season. BYU’s first official regular season match is scheduled just a week prior to its Open Cup match on May 13.
“It gives us a huge motivation to be at our peak in May, and that sets us up really well for the rest of the season,” Gilliam said.
The winner of the Open Cup earns an automatic berth in the CONCACAF Champions League and will compete against the top teams from Mexico and Central America. MLS teams have won 18 out of 19 U.S. Open Cups since they began participating in 1996.
“The players are extremely motivated now,” Watkins said. “They’re a pretty motivated group, but now with that carrot in front of them we’ll find even more.”