New York City is no stranger to the US Open Cup. Since Brooklyn Field Club won the inaugural National Challenge Cup in 1914, a total of 16 other teams have lifted the trophy. Countless more clubs have played matches within the city for the tournament that has come to be known as the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
This week, that tradition continues. The 108th edition of the US Open Cup kicks off across the country with lower league teams facing off in the First Round. This year, only one of those amateur squads calls the city home.
Manhattan Soccer Club is entering its first-ever US Open Cup with a home match. Their game against defending semi-pro champion FC Motown (Morristown, NJ) is probably the biggest match in the history of the organization. Founded in 1997, Manhattan has grown into a sprawling organization with more than 1000 players in youth and adult leagues. It isn’t uncommon to see their skyline logo on player backpacks across the city’s pitches.
But for a club that only joined the pre-professional ranks within the last few years, this match is different. Director of Coaching Ray Selvadurai has also coached plenty of the organization’s teams in his decades with Manhattan. That also includes the five-year-old USL League Two team that plays against adult teams across the Northeast.
“It’s really big for us to take a step into, you know, such a prestigious competition,” Selvadurai told HRB in a phone interview. “(Being here) shows that our club, which is primarily a youth club and we’ve taken some steps into pre-professional soccer — it shows that we compete at that level.
“To be one of the youth clubs with a pre-professional level attached to it in Manhattan, we’re one of the few to now take a step. It kind of gives our younger players a kinda look to the future and what could be and what level they could play at and be part of and how this club supports them.”
The jump into the adult game wasn’t smooth to start. After a disappointing inaugural season in 2019, the COVID pandemic canceled amateur soccer for the entirety of 2020. Coming back the following season, Manhattan switched divisions in USL2 but still struggled against established teams. That changed in 2022 though as the team finished first in the Metropolitan Division and qualified for its first postseason.
While the playoffs saw the team lose in its first game, winning the division eventually earned Manhattan one of USL League Two’s tournament allocation spots for the 2023 Open Cup.
One challenge that Selvadurai and his team have had to tackle ahead of Wednesday’s match was simply getting a team together. Like most of USL League Two, Manhattan uses primarily college talent from NCAA schools. The U.S. Open Cup starting in March means the players that won the conference title last season are officially still in their college seasons. Unless they are released by their coaches, those NCAA players can’t play or they’re stripped of their college eligibility.
Others leave the amateur scene altogether. One example is 19-year-old forward Abdul Shakur Mohammed, who played with Manhattan last year: He was drafted second overall by Orlando City SC in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft.
But the coach isn’t worried. As a program with a large youth component, there’s always talent looking to play.
“One of the things that some people are maybe not realizing is that we did have some fifth-year players in college that ended their eligibility in the fall that were a part of our USL Two team,” Selvadurai explained. “Those players will be free to play in the Open Cup. We have some alumni coming back to play for us (too). We’re excited to have them put the uniform back on again for sure. And also we have a few special younger players that are heading to some colleges and this will be a great experience for them.”
Two locals that are confirmed for Wednesday night are a pair of St. John’s University defenders. Sanoussi Sangary, a Bronx native, graduated last year and played 10 matches last season in USL League Two. That includes a full 90-minute performance in a 2-0 win against FC Motown’s second team. Another returning full-back is someone who’s known by each team. Jordan Bailon (Morristown, NJ) is one of those players who are still in college but out of eligibility anyway. He previously played in the New Jersey Red Bulls (God I hate typing that still) academy system, including a handful of caps with Red Bulls II in the second-division USL Championship.
At the end of the day Manhattan staff knows there is a large challenge ahead of them. His team is going against a defending national champion with former professional players (not including the ones that just beat Austin FC in the Champions League). While both teams are playing months ahead of their normal regular seasons, MSC are the underdogs here. But win or lose, Selvadurai is already proud of what his team has done.
“It’s a labor of love. My club, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and it’s part of me,” he explained, having just come off 12 straight hours of youth team coaching that Saturday. “It is my family. It’s my community. My daughter (Ella, 12) plays for my club now as well. So she’s part of it as well.
“I always tell people, like being a director, I never feel like I’m working because, though it is a lot of work, it’s around what I love to do. I don’t see any other better way that I would ever wanna have a profession. I call it a vocation, not an occupation.”
The game is scheduled to be played this Wednesday, March 22, at 7 pm ET. While the team played their 2022 home games at the College of Staten Island, this week the club will instead use the field at the College of Mt Saint Vincent in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Manhattan and the school have partnered to renovate the pitch, which is located right on the Hudson River.
Considering the borough, Selvadurai thinks fans of a certain MLS team should make the 15-minute drive from Yankee Stadium.
“It’s a great way to see some pretty high-level soccer,” “We’re definitely gonna have our club behind it and our youth players for short. But playing on this field, it’s a train ride up.”
A stream of the match will be broadcast online, for free, on Coachs Corner NYC. The match is one of many in the first few rounds not covered by U.S. Soccer’s broadcast deal. Only a handful of matches are being officially streamed on Bleacher Report by USSF, while the rest of the teams are left to stream matches on their own.