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Charlotte FC begins its U.S. Open Cup campaign at Greenville Triumph

By Steve Goldberg

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the American version of the famed English F.A. Cup, the semifinals of which featured Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Crystal Palace last Saturday, enters its third round this week with MLS side Charlotte FC traveling to face USL League One's Greenville Triumph.

A record 103 teams from across the country began this 107th edition of the tournament that began as the National Challenge Cup in 1914 with the Dewar Cup trophy. The competition and trophy were renamed in 1999 to honor the influential Lamar Hunt who helped create and build both the North American Soccer League (NASL) and MLS.

The third round of the bracket-style tournament featuring all tiers of American soccer teams is the first stage featuring 17 clubs from Major League Soccer. The top eight U.S.-based MLS teams – Canadian sides Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver aren't eligible - will enter in the next round that narrows the field to 32 teams.

For more specifics about the tournament makeup, click here []

Almost every country where football, futbol, fussball, voetbal, soccer, is played has a similar competition that includes all levels of the professional game and sometimes amateur levels as well. The F.A. Cup, which awarded its first trophy in 1872 is the mother of them all and is famous for the matches that pit lower tier clubs against the top echelon. Next most regarded would be Spain's Copa del Rey, the King's Cup.

The Greenville Triumph SC, who play in the third division level USL League One, as does the Charlotte Independence this year, is two levels down from MLS, the singular first division level in the U.S. They joined the 2022 edition of the tournament in the second round, upsetting the division two level USL Championship’s Oakland Roots 2-0 at Triumph Stadium and earning the shot against Charlotte.

"It was a good performance from us," said Greenville coach John Harkes. "The guys did well; we earned it. To be resilient in that game, it helps grow the club and grows our team in confidence."

Will that boost in self-assurance be enough to take the game to Charlotte?

Harkes, the first American to play in what is now the English Premier League, has experience with upsets in Cup matches. His then-second division Sheffield Wednesday team slayed first division club Manchester United 1-0 at Wembley Stadium in the 1991 League Cup Final.

"It will be a big challenge. I think if we had all healthy bodies available, I would say one hundred percent yes. We've got about four starters who aren't able to compete. Having said that, it's a great chance for other players to step up."

Charlotte coach Miguel Angel Ramirez does not feel that his team will take the lower division Triumph lightly. "Honestly, I don’t know if the player enters the field thinking this is an inferior team so we can beat them walking. In training, we aren’t walking; we are doing it like we always do it, with the same velocity because there is intensity and rhythm."

"I don’t think they are going in relaxed; I see the complete opposite; they are people who will not give anything away. I see it more from that point of view, knowing if they stop, there’s someone else ready to take their place, and that internal competition keeps pushing us forward to be great."

He acknowledged that Cup runs and the added exertion that puts on players and coaches can be detrimental to their league aspirations, "But for us, as a club who are just starting and making our first steps, all these competitions, all these games are always a special moment, a chance to keep learning and to keep playing together and consolidating the ideas, so it is a great opportunity."

He added that Charlotte has, "enough depth to cover both competitions."

"We will prepare for this game like it’s any other game."

But it's not. Even between MLS clubs, Cup games are special and there is great incentive to win, something Ramirez understands.

"You get an important reward for the club, I'm not talking only financially, but to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League so it's important for the club to play this competition and to try to do your best to win it."

The 2022 Cup winner will earn $300,000 in prize money and a berth in the 2023 Concacaf Champions League. Its name will be engraved on the original Dewar Challenge Trophy – one of the oldest nationally-contested trophies in American team sports – which is now on permanent display at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas.

The reigning Cupholders from 2019 are Atlanta United, which may add additional incentive to take the Cup away.

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