This is Part 3 of our US Open Cup 101: you can check out the second part here detailing the history of the US Open Cup.
Minnesota’s history in US Soccer’s longest running tournament is relatively young. Neither the Minnesota Kicks, who existed from 1976-1981, or the Minnesota Strikers, who played outdoor soccer in 1984, entered the US Open Cup due to the NASL not participating in the USOC at the time.
After those teams had come and gone, the Minnesota Thunder started up in 1990 but didn’t participate in the US Open Cup until 1999. The Thunder would qualify for the US Open Cup and start in the second round losing at home to the Mid-Michigan Bucks (PDL) 2-1.
2000 would see the defending A-League Champion Thunder advance in the Cup and play an MLS team for the first time. After beating Mexico SC (USASA) 7-0 in the Second Round they faced the Dallas Burn (MLS) in Blaine. Dallas proved to be the better team, besting the Thunder 2-0 that night.
After not qualifying for the 2001 Open Cup the Thunder would qualify every year until their demise. That year also started a four year period of the best performance seen in the US Open Cup by a Minnesota team to date. After making it to the 3rd round in both 2002 and 2003, they made their first of two deep runs in 2004.
Minnesota started off their 2004 run in the 3rd round defeating Boulder Rapids Reserves (PDL) 2-1 in extra time to advance to the 4th round. The 4th Round saw the Thunder host the LA Galaxy at the Metrodome. In front of a crowd of 5,505 the Thunder defeated the Galaxy 1-0 in regulation and advanced to the Quarterfinals. The Quarterfinals saw an even larger crowd of 5,686 at James Griffin Stadium in St. Paul to witness the San Jose Earthquakes come to town. After drawing 2-2 through regulation and extra time the Thunder would drop the match on 5-4 on penalties.
2005 was Buzz Lagos’ final season as Manager of the Thunder in which they made an even deeper run to the US Open Cup. Starting off in the Second Round at home in St. Paul against Chicago Fire Premier (PDL), they won the match 2-1. The 3rd Round witnessed another MLS club come to St. Paul with Real Salt Lake playing the Thunder. It took extra time but Minnesota took down Salt Lake 6-4 to move on to the 4th Round against another MLS team, the Colorado Rapids. The Rapids stood no chance as the Thunder routed them 4-1 at home, moving on to the Quarterfinals for the second year in a row. The Quarterfinals marked the first ever showdown, of what has since been many, between a Minnesota club and the then named Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City). Just like the three prior teams, the Wizards stood no chance and were routed at 3-1 at home moving the Thunder to the Semifinals. The Semifinals saw a rematch of the 2004 4th Round match between Minnesota Thunder and LA Galaxy, but this time at Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. The eventual Cup Champion Galaxy took their revenge with a 5-2 win over the Thunder.
After the retirement of Buzz Lagos, longtime Thunder player and current Director of Player Personnel for Minnesota United, Amos Magee took over as the Manager for the Thunder from 2006-2008. This period of time after Lagos’ retirement wouldn’t see the Thunder advance past the second round until after Don Gramenz led the team in 2009. That year they would advance to the third round only to fall on penalties to the Kansas City Wizards.
The Thunder would fold for multiple reasons after the 2009 season, but their replacement came when the National Sports Center announced they would field a professional team NSC Minnesota, the Stars. NSC Minnesota now led by Manny Lagos would push themselves through to the 2nd Round falling to AC St. Louis. In 2011, the now league owned NSC Minnesota and the entire NASL were denied entry to the US Open Cup due to the lateness of USSF sanctioning of the league saying the tournament being to far along in planning to change the format according to the USSF. This is the first and so far only time since 1995, when professional leagues were allowed in the USOC, that a pro league did not participate.
2012 saw the now renamed Minnesota Stars FC defeat the Des Moines Menace (PDL) 2-0 in the second round and defeat Real Salt Lake 3-1 in the 3rd Round before losing 1-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes in the 4th Round. After 2012 the club was renamed Minnesota United FC and since then the Loons have advanced to the 2nd Round in 2013, 4th Round in 2014, 3rd Round in 2015, and 4th Round in 2016 in which both 4th Round losses have come to Sporting Kansas City.