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Tormenta in U.S. Open Cup field
South Georgia Tormenta's Mikie Rowe, right, joins the crowd in celebrating his goal during a May 18 game last season in Statesboro. - photo by Associated Press

    South Georgia Tormenta FC must wait until 2019 to begin play as a professional franchise, but the team won’t have to wait to play for one of American soccer’s top prizes.

Word officially came down on Wednesday that Tormenta is one of 20 Premier Development League teams that have been selected to participate in the U.S. Open Cup. The tournament, which dates back 105 years, includes all levels of competition throughout the nation, from semi-professional and amateur play, all the way up to Major League Soccer.

“There were definitely a lot of smiles and some celebrating at today’s meetings with coaches and staff,” Tormenta team president Darin Van Tassell said. “Three years ago, this team didn’t even have a name yet. Now, you look at this tournament and see that we are a few wins away from playing an MLS team.”

Of 74 teams that will compete in the PDL this season, only last year’s division winners qualified for the U.S. Open Cup. The rest were reviewed and given invitations based on merit.

All amatuer teams and PDL squads will begin play in the first round of the tournament. Winners will advance to the second round, where participating USL and NASL teams will enter into the mix. All teams surviving into the fourth round will face the possibility of drawing one of the 19 MLS clubs. From there, the bracket will be 32 teams strong before the final knockout rounds.

In total, 94 teams will take part in the tournament. The matchup drawings for the first round will be held on April 4, with first round matches scheduled for May 9.

Unlike professional outfits who may have a large majority of their squad on hand to practice and prepare for the Open Cup months in advance, Tormenta routinely sees most of its players get to town during the first week of May. That leaves an awfully tight window to mesh together as a team and get ready to compete in a national tournament.

“We’re accustomed to having to get our team ready quickly,” Van Tassell said. “There are a few guys who will get here earlier and we’re doing some things to get them on the field and playing together as much as possible.”

Competing in the U.S. Open Cup in just its third year of existence is quite the accomplishment. Then again, it could also be seen as just another feather in the cap of a franchise that has gone from non-existent to future professional club with a brand new stadium on the way in the same timeframe.

“We made it clear to the guys we looked at for this year,” Van Tassell said. “We have three goals. We want to win a PDL championship. We want to compete in the Open Cup. We want guys to compete for a spot on our professional club next season. I think that putting it all out there gets us the guys who can do those things for us.”