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Glory, Defeat, and Pepper Spray: Minnesota in the U.S. Open Cup

by on 5 June 2018

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is entering its 106th season, proof of America’s rich soccer heritage. While the dominant teams of old — the Brooklyn Italians, Bethlehem Steel — are diminished or defunct today, their legend lives on. In the modern MLS era, the Open Cup is the tie that binds the teams at the top and the amorphous, ever-shifting divisions below. New legends are being written, like the Cinderella Rochester Rhinos championship in 1999, or our own Minnesota Thunder’s shocking semi-final run in 2005.

To celebrate the entry of Minnesota United FC into the 2018 Open Cup this Wednesday, I’m re-posting an article I compiled for Northern Pitch back in 2015, where I and some longtime fans shared our memories of the U.S. Open Cup.

The highs of pulling incredible upsets, the lows of being upset ourselves, the agony of encounters with rent-a-cops; it’s all here.


Because it’s The Cup

Being from Rochester, I still remember watching the ESPN sports center update on the Rhinos winning the cup in 1999. That was when I realized just how different a sport soccer truly was.

I had always played baseball and football, and hadn’t been that interested in soccer. But during high school, the Rhinos had started up and they got major press in local paper. I remember reading articles about the team by our local cantankerous sports columnist, Bob Matthews. That was why I got into the team. During their cup run, I was away at college. I followed the team on the democrat and chronicles pitiful website when I could, and was the only one who cared about the result when they showed clips of it on sportscenter in the TV room of our dorm.

– Bill MK

Some of the greatest games I’ve ever seen were in the Open Cup. As a Galaxy fan, the 2000/2001 tournaments were extremely memorable. In both years, the Galaxy faced the Chicago Fire in the semi-finals of the tournament.

In 2000, the shorthanded Fire beat the LA Galaxy in sudden death with a Josh Wolff goal in overtime. Mexican national team member Luis Hernandez, not ten feet from where I was sitting, swept Peter Nowak’s legs and then shockingly stomped on Nowak’s face. The referee only delivered a yellow card to Hernandez. Norwak left the game with a concussion and multiple cuts on his face. Hernandez was later suspended for the entire 2001 tournament.

In 2001, the Galaxy got their revenge against he Fire in extra time with an Alexi Lalas game winner. In celebration, Lalas ran full speed up a hill behind the goal at Titan Field in celebration. Everybody was going crazy. In memory of this, the grass berm behind the goal at the Stubhub Center is known as Lalas Hill.

– Joe Leyba


2004: Moral Victory

In 2004, the mighty LA Galaxy came to the Metrodome and lost 1-0 to the pesky Minnesota Thunder on a goal by Chris Brunt. A few days later LA fired head coach Sigi Schmid. Next up was a visit from the defending MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes lead by Landon Donovan. The game was played at James Griffin Stadium in St Paul and it was a wild one that ended 2-2 after a dramatic late header goal by Dustin Brannan. I swear it felt like the crowd willed that tying goal to happen. But after a scoreless 30 minutes of extra time SJE won it 5-4 in a penalty kick shootout. SJE All Star/World Cup defender Jeff Agoos gave MN supporters the finger as he left the field for no apparent reason, other than the fans cheering so loudly after regulation that SJE had to move out to the middle of the field to speak with each other. It almost felt like Minnesota won that game.

– Bruce McGuire


2005: Giant Killers

In 2005, to host RSL, we had to beat the Chicago Fire Premier (PDL) at home. Sitting behind the visitors, somehow the fans decided to name the Fire’s coach Sparky, after their mascot. For 90+ minutes we just heckled the hell out of that coach. From what I remember the Thunder didn’t play particularly well but they walked away with a 2-1 victory. Personal highlight was getting a picture of Bruce and Sparky after the game.

– Joe Leyba

2005 was a run for the ages. The Thunder started off with a 2-1 home win over PDL side Chicago Fire Premier, then ramped it up several notches by beating Real Salt Lake 6-4 in extra time at Griffin. The RSL goals were scored by Jason Kreis (3) and Jamie Watson. That was the night the “You Dive Like Jamie Watson” cheer was born. RSL had allowed 5 goals to Chivas USA the previous weekend and Thunder fans chanted: “Chivas scored 5. We scored 6!” Even the Salt Lake newspapers made mention of that one.

Next Minnesota beat Colorado Rapids 4-1, with all 4 goals scored by Melvin Tarley (who over the next two years was bought by both RSL and the Rapids!) The Quarterfinal round was played on the road and they defeated Kansas City Wizards 3-1. (After the game I got pepper sprayed by an overzealous police officer while I broke up a fight – that guy is still on my Shit List.) Finally in the Semifinals the Thunder traveled to LA Galaxy, who wanted revenge and now had Landon Donovan to help exact it, and lost 5-2. MN had a chance to take an early lead but missed a PK.

– Bruce McGuire

To add to Bruce’s story, I also got maced when I had a guy in a headlock that was attempting to knock Bruce’s lights out. The security guard told me to let go of him twice and so I said no, because he’s going to punch my friend. He warned me one last time or he’d mace me. I let go of the guy… and he lunged at Bruce and the guard maced the guy and also hit me. Then he turned it on the other guy Bruce was holding down and hit Bruce, right in the face.

Guys were telling us to put water on it which only made it way worse. The bus ride home was absolutely miserable. The mace didn’t stop burning till sometime the next day.

Coach Buzz Lagos vouched for us as did [Team President] Djorn Buchholz or we were going to be brought to jail—which is where the other two guys landed.

However, the win was epic. I made the video to remembers the good times surrounding that win.

– Brian Quarstad


2007: The Crazy Dog

In 2007, after squeaking by the USASA Indios 3-2, we had to play the California Victory two times in a few days if I recall correctly. The first was a league game (I think) which MN may have beat them. But then there was the USOC Match, I’m pretty sure at the Jimmy, where Ricardo Sanchez had a complete meltdown for the Victory. He was a pretty good player but at one point he took exception with the Dark Clouds and after scoring a goal ran over in front of the DCs, got down on all fours and pretended to mark his spot.

Bruce or Joe will have to correct any details I may be getting wrong here. But Sanchez was eventually carded out of the game but he wouldn’t leave the field. Like for five minutes he wouldn’t leave the field. The cops eventually had to escort him off. MN lost to the Victory 1-0.

Either way, guess who the Thunder signed the following year? Sanchez. We called him El Perro Loco—the crazy dog.

– Brian Quarstad

Ah yes, the famous urination simulation by Sanchez. I believe I have a MP3 of the announcing somewhere.

-Joe Leyba

I actually think Anthony De Sam Lazaro did the PBP on that and I did he color that night as part of our old JackCasts. I recall Anthony be so pissed off he ended the broadcast the second the official blew his whistle and walked out of the booth not to be seen again that night.

– Brian Quarstad


2008: Before They Were Famous

In 2008 we first played the St. Louis Lions PDL and took care of them as we should have 4-1. But then we come up against this USL-2 team (D3) that I had been hearing some very positive things about. Their new coach from Scotland had come in the previous year and they finished in 2nd place. It was a home game for us but they were renovating the NSC and the team was in the process of moving back out their from James Griffin in St. Paul. So we had to play in the exhibition field next to the stadium.

The Thunder were dreadful and the young new coach for MN, Amos Magee got completely out-coached as well. The final was 2-0 Cleveland City Stars. The coach, Martin Rennie went to win the USL-2 championship that year. He went on the next year to coach the RailHawks to runners up and finished the 2010 season as league champions. Of course, he ended up coaching Vancouver in MLS for a few years. Now he’s in Korea. And Amos Magee is Ben Olson’s assistant in DC.

– Brian Quarstad


2009: Idiot Alert

In 2009, the Kansas City Wizards beat the Minnesota Thunder in penalty kicks at the NSC. I remember terrible refereeing throughout the game. Also, some jackass threw a beer at the KC bench during the game. That guy was ejected faster than anybody I’ve seen before.

– Joe Leyba

2009, the home game against KC, is probably my best Open Cup memory—and my haziest. That was one of the years that the wooden beer garden was in operation, so I’d been making trips back and forth between the first row and the beer hut for the entire game. As I recall, Josh Wolff, who had played a number of times for the national team, came on in the second half and won a penalty in extra time with the biggest of all dives. I remember absolutely screaming at him. And carrying on screaming at him after KC scored. And continuing to scream at him so much that I almost missed Melvin Tarley, Mr. USOC, tying the game in about the 119th minute.

It went to penalties, and I remember a significant amount of argument about where the penalties would be taken—or maybe it was just confusion in the beer garden. I remember wanting to position myself for the inevitable shootout victory. Shows what I know about stuff. 4-2 KC.

I still hate Josh Wolff.

– Jon Marthaler

Yeah, PKs were to take place in front of beer garden and refs made them change it to south end because they felt the heckling from the beer garden area was a threat. I remember Manny [Lagos, then Team President] being furious and vaguely remember him being told to leave the field.

– Brian Quarstad


2012: The Menace Part I

My first DC road trip was to watch the MN Stars take on the Des Moines Menace in the 2012 Open Cup. I recall the stadium staff cautiously separating us from the Des Moines supporters on the way to our seats in the “elementary school section” – even though we had been drinking with the DM supporters for an hour already. A DC taunted their goalie because we couldn’t read his number (“Did your mom forget to iron on your number?!”). Dias got a deserved red card for kicking out at a Menace player who came in for a sloppy tackle. And as we celebrated on the way home we learned that the Stars had sold the right to host the next game to Salt Lake. While we were crushed that we would not force an MLS team to play us in Blaine – the victory over RSL, at their place, had me singing Steve Miller for a long time… “Go on, take the money and run…”

– Dave Laidig

…later in Salt Lake…

From minute one to minute ninety, it looked like their team wanted it more than we did. And we’ve been preaching the same message to our team for many many years now. Which is that if they’re not fully committed to the game, they will not get results. And they came in about 75% and thought that was going to be good enough and it clearly was not.”

– Jason Kreis



2013: The Menace Part II

The Open Cup game against Des Moines in 2013 was the first Minnesota United game I ever attended. It’s astonishing that I ever came back.

I was in my senior semester at school and had decided to catch up on American soccer. I bought MLSLive and did all kinds of research on our local team. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make any of the first games at the Metrodome because I had conflicts every single time. So when the opportunity came to do to the Open Cup match, I jumped at the chance. I dragged a friend along. It was cold, windy, and drizzling. I was a bit weirded out by the Dark Clouds. And Minnesota played awful. I mean—Bill McGuire must have reconsidered his whole investment at that point.

The one thing I remember from that match is developing an incredibly strong hatred for Justin Davis. My memory is that he was just shockingly bad in that game. I couldn’t figure out why he was even on the field. And now, of course, he’s one of our best players.

– Alex Schieferdecker

I took a date out to Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on a cold, rainy night to watch Minnesota and Des Moines slog through a match that produced precious few chances. I saw a pair of coworkers while my date and I were climbing the stairs of the bleachers looking for seats—two brothers who were also regulars at Stars/Loons matches—and chose to sit next to them. It dawned on me a few minutes after doing so that I had to be on my best behavior during the match as result of my choice of seats or it would surely would have gotten mentioned around the office the following morning.

The Menace added disappointment in addition to the weather and my lack for foresight when Brandon Fricke headed in a Jimmy Tulloch corner in the 86th minute to give Des Moines a 1-0 lead which they held through the match’s final minutes. The Dark Clouds had been taunting Tulloch for much of the second half, suggesting he pull up his socks as one had slouched down notably lower than the other during the course of play. Tulloch ran over to the Dark Clouds’ section after assisting on Fricke’s goal to celebrate via a shushing gesture which drew the ire of Pablo Campos, who in turn gave Tulloch a chest-bump before the referee separated the two.

Everyone went home cold and wet. A disappointing night all around.

– Kyle Eliason

2014: The Menace Part III

I wasn’t able to go down to Des Moines last year, in 2014, I watched the match on the bootleg iPhone stream with Chris Lidholm’s commentary. Briefly summarized, I think it was Cristiano Dias who got away with a flagrant handball, and then finally Manny got tired of the reserve side bungling, and he threw on Christian Ramirez who scored.

But, no longer working with the team, I jumped at the chance to go down to Kansas City. We got a full bus to go down. It was gorgeous weather and we streamed the World Cup on the trip down. That was the Australia-Netherlands game with Tim Cahill’s absurd volley goal. When we arrived in KC we showed up to tailgate, and none of the KC fans were tailgating. But a few saw us and came over to hang out. We shared some Surly and Oklahoma Joes (er… Joe’s Kansas City BBQ).

The game was thrilling, we really were very competitive. My highlight was Christian Ramirez making Erik Palmer Brown look ridiculous with a spin move. But the referee, (Tyler Ploeger, one of the only referees against whom I have a specific grudge) completely ruined the game. Cristiano Dias went up for a header with his arms at his sides, and he caught Dom Dwyer with an elbow, because Dwyer is absolutely tiny. But Dom had been whining to the referee all game and he went down like a rocket and out came the straight red card. Eventually the Sporks broke through twice despite heroic goalkeeping from Mitch Hildebrandt.

I desperately want a chance at revenge this year.*

– Alex Schieferdecker


[*Ed. Note: Minnesota would lose on penalty kicks to St. Louis FC]


In this age of incredible expansion to American Soccer, the US Open Cup means more and more. Minnesota is set to play a soon-to-be familiar opponent, new MLS entrants FC Cincinnati in the fourth round. New memories will be created and the Loons will once again hope to taste US Open Cup glory. Or (as happens every year) early and ignominious defeat.

As long as it’s not pepper spray.

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