After 50 years away, Chicago’s Schwaben AC make U.S. Open Cup return
When Schwaben AC of Buffalo Grove, Ill. last competed in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Summer Olympic Games were hosted in Tokyo, Lyndon Baines Johnson was president and a British band called The Beatles were making waves on this side of the Atlantic with their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
That was 1964, and after a 50-year absence from the competition, Schwaben AC are back for the 2014 edition. They qualified through the U.S. Adult Soccer Association (USASA) Region II Open Cup competition, winning games against FC Indiana and in-state rivals A.A.C Eagles to progress.
It’s another milestone moment for a club rich in history. Founded in 1926 by German immigrants from the Swabia region (near the Black Forest), Schwaben have always fielded competitive amateur sides and in recent decades their youth system and camp offerings have grown dramatically.
Schwaben are tentatively scheduled to face the Des Moines Menace in the final of that competition on April 27 at the Iowa Soccer Complex in Iowa City. But having already secured their berth in the main tournament, they can look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
The last time they participated, the Open Cup was known as the National Challenge Cup and Schwaben reached the national semifinals, where they lost 2-0 to the eventual winners Los Angeles Kickers-Victoria.
The team’s head coach, Tom Cholewa, says his players and staff are well aware of the rich history they are now contributing to at Schwaben AC, and they feel this is a good reward for consistent play that has seen them win the Major Division of Illinois’ Metropolitan Soccer League two years in a row.
“It’s fantastic,” Cholewa told SoccerWire.com. “Obviously I wasn’t there 50 years ago, but the club is rich in history and tradition so it’s good for the members and the old Schwaben guys to finally get the team back into the Open Cup and a cup competition.
“We definitely know the history. There’s trophies and pictures around, so we’re definitely aware that Schwaben has done well in the past. We’ve been planning to do this for three years, we don’t do it every year.
“We were pretty successful around Chicago,” he added. “We won our league for the past two years, so the guys wanted to see if they could compete against other teams and they got the results. The team was ready and the guys were ready.”
The final against the Menace will serve as a useful warm-up fixture for Schwaben, who see it as another chance to experience playing a team from outside Illinois and a way to prepare for what is sure to be a challenging fixture in the first round of the Open Cup itself.
“To be honest, that game is just like a bonus game to get to nationals,” Cholewa said. “It’s hard with the Open Cup as the bracket does not come out, and being an amateur team it’s hard to set a schedule going forward.
“That game’s going to help us out, so we’re going to try and prepare as much as possible. It’s kind of hard because of the conditions, and you’ve got to look for fields around here to train on. It’s hard playing that early, but we’re definitely going to be prepared to play.
“Going forward in the spring, I think we’re able to move our league games so it’s pretty easy to fit everything in. Plus, we have a pretty good complex where we play our home games. A few teams play there so we’re able to play under the floodlights on Tuesday and Thursday nights, which allows us to play and travel in those Cup games.”
Coming from the fifth tier of the American soccer pyramid, Schwaben are aware of the tests that await them when they come up against more experienced teams who are accustomed to playing in national cup competitions.
As such, Cholewa refuses to set his team any targets in the Open Cup, instead placing emphasis on preparing his players in the right way and going into games with no fear.
“We just want to get guys ready and try to compete as much as possible,” he said. “The first round is usually a regional game, so you’re looking at either a PDL team or maybe a USL team, so as long as we’re ready and can compete, everything else will follow and hopefully fall into place.
“We have a limited time and schedule, and sometimes you can’t get all these guys out to training, so hopefully we can give anyone a game.”
That does not quite stop Schwaben dreaming of a draw against one of the top teams in the country, even though they do not enter the competition until the third round. Cholewa’s collection of local players who have played at NCAA Division I programs have one team in mind in particular.
“Probably the guys would want to play at home against the Chicago Fire,” he added. “We wouldn’t have to travel, and their friends and family can go out and see them play.
“It would also be great for the guys to play at Toyota Park. We’ll be happy with whoever we get, and it’ll be tough, that’s for sure.”