Only one team stands between the Houston Dynamo and history as they continue their hunt for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this Wednesday night when they take on Los Angeles FC in the semifinal round at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT, TICKETS).
Though the Dynamo have never reached the U.S. Open Cup Final, a number of players and coaches on the current squad are very familiar with the significance of playing in – and winning – the nation’s oldest continuous soccer tournament.
“Any time you play, that’s why you play — you play to win trophies,” said assistant coach Davy Arnaud, who lifted the trophy in 2004 with Kansas City. “It’s not the MLS Cup, but it is another trophy that’s there to be won and for me to have got to do that with a great team and a great group of guys in 2004 was very special.”
Arnaud now has the chance to win it as a coach in the league, which he said is exciting. After falling in the semifinal round of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, he relishes the opportunity to go after silverware yet again.
“It’s been a little while since I was able to be part of a team, whether playing or coaching, that has won a trophy,” he said. “Any opportunity you get is great and you understand that the chances don’t necessarily come around every single year so when they’re here you want to take advantage of them and try and win it.”
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is an annual, single-elimination tournament to determine the champion of American soccer that includes teams from every level, from local amateur and semi-pro sides up to Major League Soccer. Each MLS club receives a bye until the fourth round of the tournament.
“I think the thing about the Open Cup tournament is it’s such a short tournament for MLS teams that you win a few games and all of a sudden it’s like ‘Oh wow, we’re in the quarterfinals,’ or ‘We’re in the semifinals and we have a real chance of winning this thing,’” said goalkeeper Joe Willis, who won the tournament with D.C. United in 2013. The Dynamo, for example, needed to defeat NTX Rayados, Minnesota United FC and Sporting Kansas City this year to reach the semifinals for the third time in club history.
Willis started every match except for the final back in 2013, but goalkeeping duties have been handed to Chris Seitz during this tournament. There's no experience lost however, as Seitz was in goal for FC Dallas for their Open Cup Final victory in 2016.
Despite the stunted run-up and relative lack of exposure compared to their normal league schedule, it’s still a tournament and a chance to win a trophy, said Dynamo forward Arturo Alvarez. “It’s a chance to bring a championship to this club and we have to do whatever it takes to do that.”
The Houston native reached the Open Cup Final twice when he was a member of FC Dallas, but the team fell short both times and the forward hasn’t returned to the tournament’s ultimate stage since 2007. He’s hoping this will be the year he not only returns but lifts the trophy with his hometown team.
“I played two Open Cup Finals with Dallas and I think third time’s the charm and hopefully we can win it here in Houston,” he said. “It would be great. One thing is being here and playing for your hometown team, another thing is winning championships with your hometown team, so that would just be a good combo.”
Defender and captain DaMarcus Beasley won the Open Cup twice early in his career, the first being in 2000 with the Chicago Fire under current LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. Though it was almost 20 years ago and Beasley was only a teenager, the American soccer legend said “you always remember your first.”
“As a young professional, yeah you want to win and you want to win trophies but for me it was just about playing,” he said. “Now that I’m older I know how hard it is to win championships at any level, so to win that at a young age, it was fun, it was great.”
As a win-or-go-home, single-elimination tournament, there’s a special energy that comes along with each Open Cup game, especially the deeper a team goes into the tournament, Alvarez said.
“You know that there’s a price at the end of that game so it’s definitely motivational,” he said.
Adding to the motivation: a championship prize includes $300,000 a spot in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. The Dynamo last played in the continental tournament in 2013, and would love the opportunity to take on the best from Mexico and Central America once again next season.
First things first though, Houston must advance past first-year squad LAFC on Wednesday before either traveling to Chicago to take on the Fire or hosting the Philadelphia Union in the final. With glory so close they can taste it, Beasley said the team is all-in.
“It’s one game. There’s nothing to hold back. There’s no points. There’s no ties. So we’re going to give it our all come Wednesday to win.”