Through May 23, 2014, lower-division teams have beaten MLS teams 66 times. (MLS teams have won 160.) And based on a whole lot of spreadsheets, we can declare one particular lower-division team the most accomplished team in the Open Cup.
The PDL is 38-87 against non-MLS pro leagues. But other amateur leagues are less successful against D2 and D3: 10-72.
For purposes of these upset lists, I haven’t separated D2 from D3. To my surprise, D2 (A-League/USL-1/USSF D-2/NASL) is 38-12 against D3 (D3 Pro/USL-2/USL Pro) since 1997. But the difference today is debatable. The Cup gives us scant evidence: Since 2010, when USSF D-2 split from the USL, D2 and D3 are 3-3 against each other. But against MLS teams, NASL teams (6-9, 40%) are more successful than USL Pro teams (9-21, 30%).
That’s assuming I didn’t miss anything in copying and pasting all the results from 1996 to 2014 from TheCup.us, cleaning up the data for easy sorting and searching, writing formulas to take each league name into account, etc.
Here is, to the best of my knowledge and spreadsheeting ability, a list of every U.S. Open Cup upset since MLS teams joined in 1996:
As with the FA Cup, once a top-tier team gets to the later rounds, it gets a bit more serious about the competition. That shows when we look at the quarterfinalists and semifinalists:
In typical soccer fashion, I’m going to take a whole bunch of data and then make a subjective judgment. I added up all the wins and all the runs, then ranked each team’s accomplishments based on how much they overachieved. In other words, a PDL team beating a couple of pro teams is roughly equivalent to an MLS team reaching the final.
Here goes, in reverse order:
14. Carolina RailHawks (USL-1/USSF D-2/NASL): 13 wins in seven years (through 2013). 1-time semifinalist. 4 wins over MLS teams.
- 2007 (USL-1): Semifinalist. Beat Chicago Fire.
- 2012 (NASL): Beat Los Angeles.
- 2013 (NASL): Quarterfinalist. Beat Los Angeles and Chivas USA.
13. Columbus Crew (MLS): 19 wins, 1 Cup, 2-time runner-up, 1-time semifinalist.
- 1998: Runner-up
- 1999: Semifinalist
- 2002: Champion
- 2010: Runner-up
12. Kansas City Wizards / Sporting Kansas City (MLS): 18 wins, 2 Cups, 1-time semifinalist.
- 2002: Semifinalist
- 2004: Champion
- 2012: Champion
11. Harrisburg City Islanders (USL-2/USL Pro): 15 wins, 5 over MLS teams.
- 2007: Quarterfinalist. Beat D.C. United.
- 2009: Quarterfinalist. Beat New England (away).
- 2010: Quarterfinalist. Beat New York Red Bulls.
- 2012: Quarterfinalist. Beat New England and New York Red Bulls.
10. Wilmington Hammerheads (PSL/USL-2/USL Pro): 15 wins, 2 over MLS teams.
- 2003 (USL Pro): Quarterfinalist. Beat Atlanta Silverbacks (A-League) 2-1, beat Dallas Burn (MLS) 4-1.
- 2006: Round of 16, again beating Atlanta 2-1.
- 2009 (USL-2): Quarterfinalist, beat Carolina RailHawks (USL-1) on PKs after 3-3 tie, beat Chicago Fire (MLS) 1-0
9. Mid-Michigan Bucks / Michigan Bucks (PDL): 12 wins. Two wins over MLS teams; total of nine wins over pro teams.
- 1997: Beat Wilmington Hammerheads (D3 Pro) 3-2 away.
- 1999: Beat Austin Lone Stars (D3 Pro) 3-2; beat Minnesota Thunder (A-League) 2-1 away.
- 2000: Beat New England Revolution (MLS) 1-0 away. Lost to Miami Fusion (MLS) on PKs.
- 2003: Beat Long Island Rough Riders (PSL) 2-1.
- 2006: Beat Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-2) 2-0; beat Cincinnati Kings (USL-2) 2-1.
- 2012: Beat Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL Pro) 1-0 away; beat Chicago Fire (MLS) 3-2 after extra time.
8. Richmond Kickers (USL top leagues/USL-2/USL Pro): 22 wins. Champions in 1995, the first year of the pro era and the year before MLS launched. 1-time semifinalist.
- 2000 (A-League): Beat Colorado Rapids.
- 2001 (A-League): Quarterfinalist
- 2004 (A-League): Quarterfinalist. Beat D.C. United.
- 2007 (USL-2): Quarterfinalist. Beat Los Angeles.
- 2011 (USL-2): Semifinalist. Beat Columbus and Sporting Kansas City.
7. Dallas Burn / FC Dallas (MLS): 27 wins, 1 Cup, 2-time runner-up, 4-time semifinalist.
- 1996: Semifinalist
- 1997: Champion
- 1998: Semifinalist
- 2002: Semifinalist
- 2005: Runner-up
- 2007: Runner-up
- 2011: Semifinalist
6. Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS): 23 wins, 2 Cups, 2-time runner-up, 2-time semifinalist.
- 2000: Semifinalist
- 2001: Champion
- 2002: Runner-up. Also won MLS Cup.
- 2003: Semifinalist
- 2005: Champion. Also won MLS Cup.
- 2006: Runner-up
5. Charleston Battery (USL top leagues/USL-2/USL Pro): 29 wins, 1-time runner-up, 2-time semifinalist.
- 1999 (A-League): Semifinalist.
- 2004 (A-League): Semifinalist. Upset MetroStars (MLS) in round of 16, beat Rochester (A-League) in quarterfinals. Fell to Chicago (MLS) in extra time, just missing the final.
- 2007 (USL-1): Quarterfinalist.
- 2008 (USL-1): Finalist.
- 2009 (USL-1): Quarterfinalist.
- 2010 (USL-2): Quarterfinalist.
4. D.C. United (MLS): 32 wins, 3 Cups, 2-time runner-up, 4-time semifinalist.
- 1996: Champion. Also won MLS Cup.
- 1997: Runner-up. Also won MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield.
- 2001: Semifinalist
- 2003: Semifinalist
- 2006: Semifinalist. Also won Supporters’ Shield.
- 2008: Champion
- 2009: Runner-up
- 2010: Semifinalist
- 2013: Champion. Had worst record in MLS.
3. Seattle Sounders (A-League/USL-1/MLS): 30 wins, 3 straight Cups, 1-time runner-up, 2-time semifinalist.
We’ll treat the A-League/USL Sounders and the MLS Sounders as one entity here, mostly because the club’s commitment to the Open Cup never wavered.
- 1996 (A-League): Quarterfinalist
- 2003 (A-League): Quarterfinalist
- 2007 (USL-1): Semifinalist
- 2008 (USL-1): Semifinalist
- 2009 (MLS): Champion
- 2010 (MLS): Champion
- 2011 (MLS): Champion
- 2012 (MLS): Runner-up
2. Chicago Fire (MLS): 34 wins, 4 Cups, 2-time runner-up, 3-time semifinalist.
- 1998: Champion. Also won MLS Cup. Club’s first season.
- 2000: Champion. Also lost MLS Cup final.
- 2001: Semifinalist
- 2003: Champion. Also won Supporters’ Shield, lost MLS Cup final.
- 2004: Runner-up
- 2005: Semifinalist
- 2006: Champion
- 2011: Runner-up
1. Rochester Rhinos (A-League/USL-1/USL Pro): 33 wins, 1 Cup, 1-time runner-up, 1-time semifinalist.
- 1996 (A-League): Runner-up. Upset Tampa Bay Mutiny in extra time (quarterfinals), upset Colorado Rapids 3-0, lost final to D.C. United.
- 1999 (A-League): Champion. Four straight wins over MLS teams. 1-0 over Chicago Fire, 2-1 (ET) over Dallas Burn, 3-2 over Columbus Crew and 2-0 over Colorado Rapids.
- 2004 (A-League): Quarterfinalist
- 2005 (A-League): Quarterfinalist
- 2009 (USL-1): Semifinalist
NOTEWORTHY RUNS/HONORABLE MENTION
1997: San Francisco Bay Seals (D3) beat two MLS teams (Kansas City Wizards, San Jose Clash) to reach semifinals.
2003: Fresno Fuego (PDL) beat Utah Blitzz (PSL) and El Paso Patriots (A-League) to reach round of 16, losing to LA Galaxy in quarterfinals. Came back in 2014 with win over Orange County Blues (USL Pro).
2005: Minnesota Thunder (A-League) beat PDL’s Chicago Fire Premier, won a wild 6-4 game in extra time over Real Salt Lake, then beat the Colorado Rapids and Kansas City Wizards (away) to reach semifinals. The year before, the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Galaxy. That’s four wins over MLS teams.
2006: Dallas Roma FC (USASA) beat PDL’s Laredo Heat on PKs, then USL-1’s Miami FC 1-0, then Chivas USA on PKs, falling in fourth round.
2006: Carolina Dynamo (PDL) beat two pro teams: Richmond Kickers (USL-2) in second round, Seattle Sounders (USL-1) in third, setting up Dynamo-Dynamo matchup vs. Houston. As a pro team, reached quarterfinals in 1996.
2007: New England Revolution (MLS) made a rare run in the Cup and won it all. Next best runs: final in 2001, semifinal in 2008.
2012: Cal FC (USASA) beat Wilmington Hammerheads (USL Pro) 4-0 away and Portland Timbers (MLS) 1-0 away.
TEAMS WITH 10 OR MORE WINS
34 Chicago Fire (2nd in the ranking above)
33 Rochester Rhinos (1st)
32 DC United (4th)
30 Seattle Sounders (3rd)
29 Charleston Battery (5th)
27 Dallas Burn / FC Dallas (7th)
23 Los Angeles Galaxy (6th)
22 Richmond Kickers (8th)
19 Columbus Crew (13th)
18 Kansas City Wizards / Sporting KC (12th)
16 MetroStars / New York Red Bulls
15 Harrisburg City Islanders (11th)
15 Wilmington Hammerheads (10th)
14 New England Revolution
13 Carolina RailHawks (14th)
12 Mid-Michigan Bucks / Michigan Bucks (9th)
12 Minnesota Thunder
12 San Jose Clash / Earthquakes
11 Carolina Dynamo
11 Des Moines Menace
10 Charlotte Eagles
10 Portland Timbers
Corrections? Comments? Commiseration for staring at spreadsheets for so long? Share below.