It sounds like a bedtime story for sports nerds and history buffs and maybe it is. The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup began 103 years ago and is the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the US. This years tournament started a few weeks ago with a record setting 92 clubs. It put pros against amateurs and lower divisions against the top tier talent in the nation.
"It's a famous tournament. We just got excited about the 100th running of the Indy 500 and the US Open Cup is a 100 year old tournament. There is $250,000 in prize money sitting in that cup as well as a place in history if you win it." -Indy Eleven Head Coach Tim Hankinson
Indy Eleven find themselves entering the 3rd round of play along with their US based NASL counterparts. They debut in the midst of a highly competitive NASL Spring Season that has Indy perched near the top and in second place.
What do you do if you are a coach? Do you chase glory or do you take a practical approach? Indy Eleven's opening tournament date is sandwiched in a hectic travel week that has the boys head to Florida on back-to-back weekends. They will have one recovery day on Thursday and wheels up on Friday giving them very little rest or training from now until then. The regular season is 32 game grind and this Open Cup schedule is not going to make that any easier.
"When you look at the NASL season, that Spring Cup is still on the table with two games to play. So you kinda have to play for the trophy that's closest to you."
Indy will have their hands full at home against Louisville City on Wednesday. Louisville lead the USL in wins, points and goal differential. Lou City has not allowed a goal during 5 games in May and they have only one loss in their 11 league matches of 2016. The Ohio River Derby is the closest thing that Indy has to a geographical rival, but the lower division team isn't likely to be phased when they take the pitch at Carroll Stadium once again.
"Louisville beat us in preseason. They beat this team in a previous Open Cup so they are coming in here with great confidence thinking that they can come in here and steal a game."
The Indy Eleven have been bitten by the injury bug lately and will be without the services of several key players. Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Brad Ring, Greg Jankicki, Lovell Palmer and Colin Falvey (Hamstring) will all be unavailable for Wednesday's match for health concerns. I think that Falvey will be good by Saturday and Janicki may be day-to-day as well, but coach is unlikely to take any chances in this round of the Open Cup.
Nicki Paterson will be unavailable as well. He is serving a suspension from the 2013 version of the Cup. Paterson spent his last two seasons with Ottawa Fury and was therefore never able to serve said suspension due to the fact that the Fury are Canadian and don't participate in the US Open Cup.
"We are not taking the approach of putting a lesser squad on the field, but because of the number of injuries we have, we don't have a choice."
Nemanja Vukovic has been a force for Indy so far this year. He has two goals and three Team of the Week nods to go with them. Vuko will be given the captain's armband and will anchor the back line. He will most likely be working alongside Corey Miller, Marco Franco and Neil Shaffer. The latter of which will get his first start wearing vertical stripes at The Mike. Jair Reinoso will likely get a return to the starting lineup, but both Justin Braun and Eamon Zayed have been working tirelessly this season so it's unclear who might get to rest.
Midfield is impossible to predict, but Dylan Mares, Don Smart and Duke Lacroix would be good bets.
"I think it's a great tournament and a great format. The team we have right now, when fully healthy, can compete for it. The team that will be battling tomorrow night, can compete tomorrow night."
It sounds like Hankinson might be slow playing his hand just a touch, but he has fooled me on several occasions before. The players like Shaffer will be eager to please and will be giving it everything they have. Miller, Franco and Lacroix are all familiar faces here in Indianapolis and have earned cheers from the Brickyard Battalion before. It's easy to forget how deep this roster is but it will be tested by Louisville.
Tickets are still available and beers will be discounted. The game will kick off at 7:30pm. The winner of this match will take on Chicago Fire in the following round. Lower division teams can Cupset (a combination of up the word cup and upset) and can make a run with a bit of luck. The furthest advancing team from each division will also be awarded $15,000.