In this historic year, Orlando City Soccer Club look to make a bit of history of their own in the 100th edition of the US Open Cup on Wednesday Evening. The Lions, having defeated two consecutive Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs, will face the Chicago Fire in the quarterfinals of America's oldest soccer tournament. For two weeks media have labeed Orlando City as an "underdog" or "Cinderella" in the tournament, history itself would say otherwise.
To have a third division club advance to the quarterfinals of the Open Cup is not unheard of; in 2012 there were three teams from the USL PRO who advanced to the Round of 8 (Harrisburg, Dayton, and Charlotte). The Rochester Rhinos, currently of the USL PRO, were a second division (A-League) team when they won the entire tournament back in 1999, beating 4 straight MLS clubs in the process. Several have compared Orlando City's current run to that of the San Francisco Bay Seals in 1997, a proper third division club who made it all the way to the semifinals. However, Orlando City have some advantages that the Seals never did, meaning the Lions may stand a better chance of moving forward.
Marquis White, striker for the Seals, led all scorers in the 1997 tournament with 6 goals, but he didn't even end up leading his league (USISL) in scoring that season. Dom Dwyer, having missed the last Cup match for Orlando, sits tied for second in tournament scoring in 2013 with 3 goals but he also leads all professional players in America with 15 goals on the season.
While on the topic of Dwyer, the Seals of 1997 did not have the advantage of MLS-caliber players loaned out to their club; Orlando City have four available for the match on Wednesday. While one could argue that the loanees are with the Lions because they "didn't cut it" in MLS, the Seals never even had an option to host high-division players on their club. All the players on loan from Sporting KC are in Orlando for two reasons; to earn more playing time and to help win hardware for the club. The US Open Cup represents the most significant trophy Orlando City could achieve this season.
Lastly, the Seals had the luxury of playing the three matches prior to their semifinal loss in the San Francisco Bay Area, virtual home matches for the club. Orlando City hosted the Colorado Rapids at home in the third round but now will have traveled to Kansas City and Chicago if they continue their Open Cup run.
As much as we want to label Orlando City the "feel-good story" of the tournament, the bottom line is that these Lions deserve to be in the Quarterfinals. They have the players, staff, and the ability to win on the road; all key factors when you look at the history of past winners of this historic tournament.