For teams like the Cosmos and every other US based soccer team outside of Major League Soccer, it’s the only way to qualify for the regional CONCACAF Champion’s League, which then offers the winner a chance to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup. The details are nice to know, and the idea of the Cosmos being placed in an international tournament with the other regional champions is tantalizing.
For the Cosmos though, since the reboot the Open Cup has meant just a little bit more. Not only is the Cup the only shot the team has at international FIFA tournaments, but it is also the only time the club will cross paths against MLS teams outside of friendly competition; a chance to earn respect against their professional neighbors.
The flames of the Cosmos vs MLS fires were fanned well before the club even played a match in the domestic cup. Speaking with the New York Post in 2012, then owner Seamus O’Brien gave quite the answer when asked about his plan for the reboot.
“I’m not going to gaze into the crystal ball and make a statement (about MLS),” he said. “All I’ll say is that our intention is to play ultimately at the highest level and be the No. 1 side in North America.’’
He followed up his bold statement by saying it was something the club would need to build towards, sharing his thoughts about how he felt the NASL offered a better short term return for his money and a good avenue for the future of the once galactic franchise.
His initial and somewhat lofty claim however put a target on the back of the club, who had yet to sign a player. That goal and target have stayed with the club since that day. If gaining attention was the goal, it worked.
The club decided to begin play in the Fall 2013 season, instead of the Spring to start the year. This made the Cosmos ineligible for the Open Cup in their first season. Following a short preseason in England, the Cosmos hit the ground running in their first NASL season.
The club, led by former Villarreal captain and eventual Cosmos reboot legend Marcos Senna, would only lose to the Carolina Railhawks in the 14-game season, qualifying for the Soccer Bowl where they would become champions in their inaugural season.That Carolina team was the lower level team that made it furthest in Open Cup play that year, becoming one of the eight quarterfinal teams after defeating now defunct Chivas USA 3-1, before losing to eventual Open Cup finalist and MLS Cup runners-up Real Salt Lake.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies were the only other NASL side to make the Round of 16, along with USL Pro teams Orlando City and Charleston Battery, all of whom would lose in that round. The Cup semi-finals were played just after the Cosmos 2-1 victory over Fort Lauderdale in their first official NASL match. An in-form Real Salt Lake would continue their path to final, where they would meet the eventual all-time worst MLS last place finisher, DC United.
Seamus O’Brien was quick to mention the looming importance of the Open Cup after the team’s strong start in the Fall 2013 Season. He spoke with the New York Times in October, shortly after the Open Cup final.
“We’re building a professional franchise,” he stated. “Next year the U.S. Open Cup will be a big focus for us. Want to win the league and host Soccer Bowl next year. Right now, we’re 10-weeks-old and heading to the championship game.”
As we all know, the Cosmos would go on to win that championship game, one year before they had even hoped to be there.It would turn out to be a shame the Cosmos were ineligible for cup play their first season.The Cosmos were an impressive 5-3-1 when the Open Cup final took place in Salt Lake City at Rio Tinto stadium. DC United had essentially given up on MLS league play and put a well rested best XI for the cup final, where they parked the bus weathering the RSL attack for 90 minutes, scoring just before halftime with their only shot on goal, and one of only two shots all game.
DC United secured a spot in CONCACAF Champion’s League despite only winning a total of three league games.
With such a historically bad side coming away as cup champions, the Cosmos almost lost their chance at CONCACAF qualification altogether, as talk of eliminating the CONCACAF qualification from the Open Cup was briefly considered. Thankfully, the lower divisions won out and the bid would stay with the Open Cup.
The Cosmos would go on to finish 9-4-1, then winning the Soccer Bowl over Spring champion Atlanta Silverbacks behind a Marcos Senna volley. A great achievement for any club in their first season, but the early title only placed additional pressure on the Cosmos to perform in Open Cup play the next season and in the future.
Could the Cosmos have beaten DC United that season? Who knows? The only common opponent the teams shared were the Tampa Bay Rowdies. DCU rocked the Rowdies 4-0 in preseason at the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic, a tournament now taken over by the Florida Cup.
The Cosmos were 1-1-0 against the Rowdies in their first two meetings. A 0-0 draw in Tampa in the Cosmos second NASL match, followed by a thrilling 4-3 Cosmos victory in their first meeting in New York.
Given the way the seasons turned out for both teams, there is definitely a case to be made that the Cosmos could have given United a run for their money. As time would tell later however, nothing is a given in the Cup.