Underdog Charleston aims for U.S. Open Cup title
WASHINGTON -- Two days before his chance to play for an improbable national title, Dusty Hudock was cutting some tile with his wife as they remodeled their kids' bathroom in the South Carolina coastal city of Charleston.
Hudock likes it there. He's called the city home more or less since 1999, playing goalkeeper for the Charleston Battery before crowds of 4,000 or so at Blackbaud Stadium and coaching during the offseason to boost the family income.
On Wednesday, at least for a few hours, Hudock will leave the minor league life behind. He and the Battery will face D.C. United at RFK Stadium in the championship game of soccer's U.S. Open Cup -- the equivalent of a Triple-A baseball team getting to face the Boston Red Sox for the title of top club in America.
"This is undoubtedly the biggest game in the club's history," Hudock said. "It's a fantastic opportunity."
It's one of those classic underdog vs. top-dog games. The 95-year-old Open Cup, the oldest annual team tournament in American sports history, is open to any amateur and professional soccer team affiliated with U.S. Soccer, much like the FA Cup in England and similar single-elimination tournaments around the world.
Of course, since MLS came into existence in 1996, a team from the top league has usually won. The exception was in 1999, when the Rochester Raging Rhinos stunned the Colorado Rapids 2-0 in the final.
The Battery have been around since 1993. They're regularly one of the top teams in the United Soccer League's First Division -- essentially the second tier of American soccer behind MLS -- and they've faced MLS teams before in exhibition games and in the U.S. Open Cup. They've already knocked out FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo this year to earn their way to their first Open Cup final.
But a win over United would mark new territory. Charleston, which has a population of a little more than 100,000, would have a national professional championship team. The winner also gets an automatic berth in next year's CONCACAF Champions League, which determines the best club in North America. For a team that jostles for attention with minor league baseball and hockey teams and College of Charleston sports, the accomplishment would be worth more than just the trophy.
"Soccer is always a tough draw anywhere in America," said Hudock, who had fans chanting his name after making two saves during the shootout in the home semifinal win over fellow USL team Seattle. "And down here in the South it's more so. Anything that would boost the club around here locally is always going to help us."
The players have been so anxious about the trip to Washington that coach Mike Anhaeuser has had trouble keeping them focused. They are on a seven-game winless streak in the USL.
"We've taken our foot off the pedal in our league games," Anhaeuser said, "so we do know it's a big game."
Anhaeuser is realistic enough to know the task won't be easy. United are hungry for a trophy themselves, having won the last of their four MLS Cups in 2004. United's only U.S. Open Cup title came on their first try in 1996.
But if the Battery win? Oh, the joy that will ensue for the minor leaguers from South Carolina.
"I can tell you the celebration will go into the wee hours, and will happen on the field right after," Anhaeuser said. "I'm sure the disappointment will be there if we don't win it. We're not coming there just to play a game. We're coming to win."