While their opponent won't be determined until May, details released yesterday by the U.S. Soccer Federation about this year's Open Cup tournament give a glimpse of what the New York Red Bulls path to a possible first trophy looks like.
2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and fittingly the U.S. Soccer Federation has already begun to build up the buzz for the nation's longest running soccer competition: doubled prize money, the largest field of teams in the tournament's "modern era" since Major League Soccer was established, and coin flips to determine who hosts the semifinals and final - how could anyone contain their excitement!
The New York Red Bulls have never won the Open Cup, or any meaningful trophy for that matter, but the complete disregard for the tournament during the Hans Backe era rubbed many fans the wrong way. In 2010 and 2012, the lower division Harrisburg Islanders knocked out New York and 2011 actually featured the managerial debut of now head coach Mike Petke, who was sent with the bottom of the team's depth chart to Chicago where New York suffered an embarrassing 4-0 defeat. While the Red Bulls opponent won't be known until the forty-eight lower division minnows fight their way for one of the sixteen spots to face an MLS team, how the tournament fits into the Red Bulls existing league schedule is now clear.
Their first game of the Open Cup on Tuesday, May 28, is sandwiched between a Sunday home game against the Columbus Crew and another match at Red Bull Arena against the Vancouver Whitecaps the next weekend. Because of a scheduling break on the calendar for FIFA International Dates for World Cup Qualifiers, subsequent rounds set for June 12 and 26 wouldn't be too much a scheduling burden for the team. An August semifinal would be a welcome addition to the Red Bulls' schedule, but the October 1st or 2nd final could present a major challenge as New York plays on the road at Seattle on Sunday night, September 29. It wouldn't be shocking if Seattle, a perennial Open Cup overachiever, makes it to the final for the fifth consecutive year, which at least might cut back on possible travel demands.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here - the Red Bulls have fourteen more league matches before they start play in the Open Cup, and how the team performs early on in the season and what unfortunate but inevitable injuries players pick up will obviously influence how Mike Petke decides to approach the Cup. While the primary goal of any season is to win MLS Cup, that's not by any means mutually exclusive of seriously competing for the Open Cup. And 2013, the 100th iteration of the Open Cup and Mike Petke's first year at the helm of the team, would be a pretty sweet year for the Red Bulls to win that elusive first trophy.