Tropics USL PDL Team Qualify for US Open Cup

by Dakota Brian Hill

LAKELAND, Fla – It's official. The Lakeland Tropics have been invited to play in the 105th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. 

The Tropics, who kick off  their second-ever season in the USL Premier Development League on May 12 at Bryant Stadium, are one of 20 PDL teams to earn berths.

“We are thrilled for our team and our fans in Lakeland, Winter Haven and all around Polk County. It's a huge honor and we couldn't be more excited about the chance to show our skills to the rest of the country,” Lakeland CEO Dr. Panos Iakovidis said. “This was a dream from day one, and to have it happen after just one year is amazing.”

Three other teams from the PDL's southeast division have been invited. Division winners SIMA Aguilas (Montverde Academy), runners up FC Miami City and The Villages SC will join the Tropics, who were third in the nine-team division in 2017 with a 9-3-2 mark.  Those three teams will all pay visits to Lakeland during the PDL regular season on consecutive Saturday's in June.

The field also includes all 20 U.S. based Major League Soccer teams including Orlando City SC,  22 teams from the United Soccer League including the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 19 teams from the National Professional Soccer League and 13 local qualifiers. In all, nine Florida teams are entered, including two Miami based local qualifiers, FC Kendall and Red Force FC, along with Miami United FC (NPSL). 

First-round games, 52 in all across the country, will mostly be played on Wednesday May 9. The Tropics have already submitted an application to host a game at Bryant Stadium. First-round matchups will be announced April 4.

The single-elimination tournament features teams from the PDL and NPSL playing first round games. USL teams join in the second round, and MLS teams jump in starting in the fourth round. In all, 95 teams have been invited. The tournament is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the U.S., and second longest running cup competition in the world, dating back to 1914. 

Lakeland has a unique connection to Cup history.

Only one non-MLS team has won the title since 1996. Ironically, the Tropics current COO, Chris Economides, was co-owner of the 1999 Rochester Raging Rhinos that stunned the soccer world, beating four MLS teams en route to their championship, including the Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire and Dallas.

“We were living proof that lower division teams can compete with anyone. That's what the Cup is all about,” Economides said. “We are hopeful to bring a game or two here. Our fans, who gave us great support in our first-ever season last year, deserve that. It's something they won't want to miss.”