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There’s nothing better than a cupset.
The third round of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup brought plenty of upsets in all shapes and forms, from thrilling last-minute winners, to nail-biting penalty kicks and dominant home performances. Behind each win is a group of supporters, basking in the glory of David slaying Goliath, and adding a new chapter to club lore.
Detroit City FC vs. Columbus Crew
Rarely do the circumstances of a moment work out as cleanly as this. A club and a fan base that has historically pushed back at efforts to bring Major League Soccer to the city of Detroit, eschewing the league in favor of holistically growing its own club, now had the opportunity to host an MLS side in a game with real stakes tied to it. This was nothing short of the most important match in DCFC history.
“We all kind of realized this is huge,” said Jamie Johnston, a member of the comms team of the Northern Guard Supporters, the SG for Detroit City, which currently plays in the USL Championship. “It was kind of like, ‘OK, this is huge, but we’re going to do what we’ve always done.’ The overall experience for the group, as far as getting ready for this was just, ‘Hey, we already know everybody’s watching us, we know the doubters are out there. Let’s go hard like we always do.”
More than 6,100 fans packed Keyworth Stadium, creating a charged atmosphere, reminiscent of Detroit City’s early days.
“The food lines were long, the beer lines were long, everybody was excited,” said Johnston. “I think the energy of having a lot of new people helped. It kind of reminded us of the old days, and what it used to be like.”
Despite going down early thanks to a Gyasi Zardes penalty kick, DCFC equalized in the 64th minute, then went ahead in the 86th thanks to a Maxi Rodriguez penalty. After a tense final few minutes, the whistle blew and the Northern Guard went nuts.
“There were tears, lots of tears,” said Johnston. “There was the initial eruption of craziness. Everyone was congratulating each other. There were people who I saw out that I haven’t seen in years at a City match, so it was nice to be able to share. Then everyone just kind of stopped and looked at each other like, ‘That just happened, we did it. We did exactly what we came to do, and you can’t doubt us anymore.’ It felt good.”
Union Omaha vs. Chicago Fire FC
As the game clock in Chicago ticked past the 120th minute of Union Omaha’s match against the Fire, members of the Omaha Parliament supporters group, watching from the Corner Kick Cantina back in Omaha, began collecting their things and signaling their servers for their checks. Despite sending the match to extra time, Omaha was trailing 2-1 to the Fire with just a few minutes left, and things looked bleak.
Then an Alex Touche goal in the 122nd minute shot life back into the match.
“The atmosphere at the bar was electric,” said Luke Opperman, president of Omaha Parliament. “You had people who hadn’t seen each other in six months, people who’d never met each other, all hugging.”
After 6 rounds of anxiety-inducing penalty kicks, Dion Acoff gave Union Omaha the win, sending patrons of the Corner Kick, which had stayed open late to accommodate the extra time, into wild celebrations.
“It should not have been a Tuesday night,” said Opperman. “We ordered tequila shots after, and I don’t think anybody got a sound night’s sleep, because the adrenaline was too high. Everybody in there knew they had to get up at 6 or 7 am to go to work the next day, and I don’t think there was a single person who regretted being there.”
Launched in 2020, Union Omaha captured the USL League 1 title in 2021, and in its brief history has slowly grown its fan base through both on-field results and impact in the community.
“We’re building soccer in Omaha, Nebraska,” said Opperman. “We’re with the players every step of the way. We’ve gotten so close to so many of these guys. We understand how weird it sounds as a professional athlete coming to Omaha, Nebraska, and we want to make it stand out. Athletes, once they meet us, once they talk to the supporters, know how much it means to the community, and there are so many people who this team just means everything to them.”
Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC vs. Real Salt Lake
For many lower division American clubs, knocking off an MLS side in a meaningful match goes down as a top moment in club history. That was the case for USL League One side Northern Colorado Hailstorm and its supporters group, Stormchasers SG. But unlike most clubs that have years of matches to compare a big win against, Northern Colorado had just three. In the club’s fourth official match in history, it managed to knock off Real Salt Lake 1-0 on the road.
“We didn’t expect to win, but the Hailstorm FO give us enough belief that anything is possible,” said Nick Rosser, marketing chair for Stormchasers SG. “So, the Cupset wasn’t expected, but we knew deep down in our hearts we could do it.”
Formed in January of this year, Stormchasers is still laying its foundations, arranging watch party locations and drumming up interest in the region. A win over the Colorado Springs Switchbacks in the club’s first official match was a boost, and the win over RSL has cast an even bigger spotlight.
“Things are really starting to pick up for us,” said Rosser. “At first it was slow. Since the team hadn’t played any games yet, finding interested passionate fans was difficult. Once we beat the Switchbacks, it felt as if we became a national phenomenon, and the interest has grown from there. Beating RSL increased our coverage even more, and that’s always good. However, we’re still growing as things go along.”
A few SG members flew to Salt Lake for the match, while most watched from a brewery in Windsor, CO as Robert Cornwall gave Northern Colorado the lead in the 70th minute, to give the club a 1-0 win.
“Our emotions were through the roof during the match,” said Rosser. “I can’t imagine any of us had our voice after the game. The USL1 is not the biggest league in the world and we have a lot of hardworking people in Northern Colorado doing everything they can to showcase us up-and-coming talent and it’s had its dividends so far. It means so much for these guys to go out and represent our community who doesn’t really have a soccer team close unless you’re willing to drive an hour. It not only means so much for us but USL League One in general showing that Davids can really stick with the Goliaths.”
San Antonio FC vs. Austin FC
There’s no love lost between Austin FC and San Antonio FC supporters. Separated by just 80 miles, the two clubs have already built up a compelling rivalry, based on both proximity and a belief held by some San Antonio supporters that Austin poached an MLS franchise spot that was rightfully theirs. So the first ever match up between the two clubs came pre-packaged with major stakes and major bragging rights.
“There’s a history there, without us ever having played a match,” said Stuart Ransom, president of 210 Alliance, a San Antonio FC supporters group. “There are a lot of levels to it. We wanted to come out and we wanted to win. We wanted to have those bragging rights.”
The atmosphere was fitting of a derby, with a large contingent of traveling Austin support, and a sold-out home supporters section. Austin FC jumped ahead in the 47th minute, but San Antonio battled back with an equalizer in the 82nd minute forcing extra time, where Carter Manley scored the winning goal in the 96th minute.
Ransom, who was watching from Portland, got reports from friends inside of the stadium that it was one of the best atmospheres that Toyota Field had ever produced.
“It was an electric atmosphere, just from everything my friends were telling me from back home,” he said. “I was feeling the intensity even up at my apartment in Portland.”
Though some of the Alliance members are scattered around the U.S. with many attending college around the country, the group still has an impact within the San Antonio community.
“We started in 2016 as a group of younger supporters,” Ransom said. “But as we’ve gone on for five years, we’ve become about more than just soccer. We’ve tried to do a yearly drive for the San Antonio Food Bank, we’ve done a school supplies drive as well. We support soccer and we have fun at the tailgates, but we want to be able to give back to the community and be involved in more ways.”
In the Round of 32, held May 10th and 11th, Detroit City will host Louisville City, while Northern Colorado faces Omaha, and San Antonio travels to Houston to take on the Houston Dynamo.