US Soccer announced the field and format for the 2017 US Open Cup on March 1, advancing all the teams remaining from last year's qualifying rounds to the tournament's first round proper. The decision meant Morristown's FC Motown will fly its flag in the main draw of the competition for the first time, at its first attempt.
On September 11 of last year, FC Motown got through the first qualifying round for this year's USOC with a forfeit win over New York Greek Americans. The following month, the team scored a last-minute winner to edge Lansdowne Bhoys in the second round of qualifying. It had been expecting to play a third round, likely against Philadelphia's Junior Lone Star, but the prize of a place in the first round was awarded without any further on-field action required.
The first round draw will take place on April 12, with qualifying-round teams like Motown set to be matched up against opponents from the pool of teams entering from PDL and NPSL. Those games will be played on May 10 - and the prize will be second round matches on May 17, likely against NASL or USL teams.
USOC presents amateur clubs like Motown with a rare opportunity to play competitive against professional opposition - if they can get far enough in the draw to meet those opponents. But there is a challenge on and off the field. Much like MLS teams in CONCACAF Champions League are often fielding quite different squads for that tournament than they used to qualify for it, so too must amateur teams in USOC find ways to do themselves justice in a competition that kicks off a long time after they found the necessary momentum and form to win through to the main draw.
Currently, FC Motown is in its winter break from its most regular source of games: the Garden State Soccer League. It is preseason for many pro teams in the USA also, and that means players for top amateur sides like Motown can perhaps get themselves a contract if they show well in the ongoing camps and tryouts being held by professional clubs around the country. The roster that got a club like Motown this far in USOC probably won't be the same by the time it tries to extend its run in the Cup. Still, it's a challenge the amateur clubs and players willingly accept.
FC Motown head coach Sacir Hot is a New York Red Bulls Academy product and was signed to a Homegrown player contract by the club in 2011. A USA U-20 national teamer in his day, Hot made two competitive appearances for RBNY - both in US Open Cup - in his only season with the first team. But he has not lost touch with his old club, as most recently demonstrated by Motown's preseason friendly against New York Red Bulls II.
Motown lost that game 5-0. Once A Metro caught up with Coach Hot to get his thoughts on his club's progress in preseason and in USOC. And to see whether the 25-year-old had kept his earlier promise to stay "strictly sideline" as the season progresses.
Once A Metro: First things first - how did the game against NYRB II go for your team?
Sacir Hot: First, we would like to thank NYRB II for the tremendous opportunity. It was a great gesture to support a team in their backyard where many players passed through their Academy or U-23 team. Tough one for us as this was our first session outdoors compared to the Red Bulls' month-long preseason in Arizona. However, it was a good test for the guys as they get to experience what the professional level looks like! I was happy to see our guys out of their comfort zone because only there can you really take steps forward.
OaM: How has the season been for FC Motown in general? Last time I checked, the team was something like 9-0-0 in the Garden State Soccer League. [Note: Motown went into its winter break with a 9-0-0 record in GSSL and 47 goals scored to 10 conceded. Play starts again at the end of March.] Where are you with your season and how is the team doing?
SH: We have a monster spring ahead with the Lamar Hunt Cup [Editor's note: aka USOC], Werner Fricker Open Cup, Amateur Cup and GSSL ahead. We also will be working with Clarkstown/Cedar Stars to create a NPSL team that will be a national title threat. Depth of roster, prioritizing big games (Lamar Hunt Cup is clearly the jewel) and implementing my system will be the priorities. We have great respect for the GSSL teams, but we will use those games to prepare for the national Cups. Formulating our defensive shape and tactics that will play better against elite competition will be the focus.
OaM: Congratulations on advancing to the first round proper of US Open Cup! The way the entire remaining class of Open Division teams was put through to the first round, it seems almost like advancing by forfeit. What does it mean for FC Motown to be in the first round - and do the circumstances of qualifying make any difference to the way you feel about it?
SH: Making the Lamar Hunt Cup in our inaugural try is a tremendous achievement. Our owners Scott Kindzierski and Dan Karosen felt that all of the tireless work has been worth it. We are creating something special and the recognition has players from all over the tri-state area trying to get a tryout with the team. The win over a national power like Landsdowne can not be understated. In one sense our road to Lamar Hunt Cup qualifying has been easier due to the forfeit but in another sense, we felt we had the best qualifying win in the nation.
OaM: The last time FC Motown played in USOC was October. It will be April when the first round kicks off. Player-wise, how different will the team be from the one that played the last round? How prepared for competitive play do you expect to be at that time of year?
SH: We have multiple players out on trial and three look like they will sign. Trust me, it is our greatest joy when our players get signed and get to live out a dream, but the roster must always be replenished. We also have to get players healthy too, as two of our goal scorers against Landsdowne have been out with injury this preseason. The good news is that attendance at training has been tremendous - we have a lot of talent to choose from.
OaM: Finally, what does 2017 hold for Sacir Hot? Have you stayed "strictly sideline"?
SH: I've been strictly sideline. I try not to look far into the future but try to focus on bettering myself on a daily basis.