By PABLO MAURER
It’s that time of year again, the time of year when Major League Soccer sides enter U.S. Open Cup play. This year’s tournament – the hundredth edition of the cup – features some intriguing third round match-ups. Let’s take a look at this week’s games.
Richmond Kickers vs. D.C. United, 7PM ET, Richmond City Stadium, Livestream
D.C. United will enter their match with the USL-PRO Kickers having collected a scant five points in twelve league matches. Richmond, on the other hand, enters the clash unbeaten in league play. The Kickers are, of course, United’s affiliate club, and United players have been crucial to their success. Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra has been a rock for Richmond, posting an impressive 0.89 GAA en route to three shutouts, including a 2-0 blanking of Harrisburg City this past weekend.
United’s homegrown forward Michael Seaton and former United forward Joseph Ngwenya also figure to be key to the Kickers chances. Seaton has been rounding into form, notching his second professional goal against Harrisburg; Ngwenya, who found little success with United, has six goals in USL play, good enough for second in the league.
It’s a match that seems ripe for an upset. Factor in United’s rather unimpressive all-time record against their southern neighbors (5-4-1) that includes a hair-raising overtime win in the 2012 edition of the cup, and it would appear that D.C. United may be looking at an uphill battle on Tuesday night. We’ll have a full match report and photos from Richmond later tonight.
Here’s a closer look at the rest of Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup action:
Charleston Battery vs San Jose Earthquakes (7:30PM ET, Blackbaud Stadium, Livestream
San Jose visits defending USL-PRO champions Charleston Battery knowing that they have a tough task ahead of them. The Battery are perennial thorns in the side of MLS clubs in the Open Cup, having eliminated eight of them over the years. They’re also the hosts of the pre-season Carolina Challenge Cup, so they’re plenty familiar with the idea of playing much tougher competition. Tuesday night’s meeting is the first between the two clubs.
The Quakes, on the other hand, are coming off a frustrating 1-0 loss at Dallas and will be looking to bounce back against the third-tier battery before heading to Utah for their matchup with RSL on Saturday.
Orlando City FC vs Colorado Rapids (7:30PM ET, Citrus Bowl), Livestream
Orlando City will host an MLS side for the first time in Open Cup history after dispatching of the PDL’s Ocala Stampede in the tournament’s second round. The Lions have fallen in the third round in both the 2011 and 2012 installments of the USOC, to FC Dallas and Sporting KC respectively. They transitioned quickly from their 4-1 drubbing of the Wilmington Hammerheads in USL play on Saturday night, with an open cup-focused training session Sunday morning, and are led by Sporting KC loanee Dom Dwyer, who’s notched 12 goals in 10 USL matches and an additional goal in USOC play.
Colorado will travel to Orlando riding a 5-game unbeaten streak, including this weekends 2-0 victory over lowly Chivas USA. They’re also in the midst of an injury crisis and will likely feel the need to rest many of their regular starters, so their match-up with the lions is another Open Cup encounter that may offer the possibility of an upset.
Philadelphia Union vs Ocean City Nor’Easters (7:30PM ET, PPL Park)
The Union have what’s perhaps the easiest third-round pairing, as they’ll welcome a PDL side to PPL Park. The Nor’easters, however, have made their own waves in the 2013 edition of the Open Cup, having upset both the New York Red Bulls U-23s and Pittsburgh Riverhounds en route to Tuesday’s match-up. They’ll be led by the likes of University of Pennsylvania winger Duke Lacroix and Drexel midfielder Ken Tribbet.
Though the Union seem like a shoe-in to win this one comfortably, they’re facing their own set of challenges after having traded Bakary Soumare and Gabe Farfan, thinning their roster out significantly. Couple that with a tough road loss to the Impact this past weekend, and the encounter with Ocean City gets a bit trickier.
One curious note about the match – the Nor’Easters will likely feel wronged by the game’s venue. After winning a coin flip, Ocean City won the right to play the match at its home stadium. U.S. Soccer, however, ruled that their playing field didn’t meet the dimensions required for USOC play. Despite making immediate changes to the playing surface to accommodate their requests, the match was still awarded to the Union, who’d already begun selling tickets to the match. Never a dull moment in the land of USOC stadium selection.
Ft. Lauderdale Strikers vs FC Dallas (7:30PM, Lockhart Stadium)
Dallas visits the sunshine state with the best record in MLS, and will face an NASL Strikers team that is struggling mightily this year. Having culled just 4 points and six goals out of 6 league matches, this match looks to be a cakewalk for Schellas Hyndman and company, who’ll likely trot out a reserve-looking side for Tuesday night’s game. Advancing would likely set up an encounter with the Houston Dynamo in the next round – a Texas Derby, USOC-style.
This is, however, the Open Cup, and MLS sides are all too familiar with what can go wrong. Dallas themselves fell victim to a third round upset in 2012, crashing out after a loss to the Charlotte Eagles.
New England Revolution vs Rochester Rhinos (7:30PM, Sahlen’s Stadium)
Another third round pairing that offers some intrigue, tonight’s match between Rochester and the Revolution is one that pits an MLS side against it’s lower-level affiliate club. What’s more, Rochester is facing an injury crisis of epic proportions. Eight Rhinos players are currently injured, and New England recalled several of its loanees for the match.
The timing couldn’t be worse for Rochester, who looked to bring in several amateurs to bolster their numbers for the match but were prevented from doing so by yesterday’s holiday. U.S. Soccer regulations state that Open Cup sides can’t add players within 24 hours of a match, and the Rhinos were unable to do so on Monday. If an exception can’t be made, Rochester may face the Revs with as few as 13 players available. Woof.
Des Moines Menace vs Sporting Kansas City (8:30PM, Sporting Park)
The defending U.S. Open Cup Champions will welcome the PDL Des Moines Menace to Sporting Park tonight. The Menace have faced SKC on two previous occasions, losing both by a combined score of 8-2. It will also be the club’s first match ever in an MLS venue.
Led by former FC Dallas head coach Mike Jeffries – who won two Open Cup titles as an assistant with Chicago in 1998 and 2000 – the Menace have already done the improbable, beating Minnesota United FC and the Madison 56’ers and advancing to the tournament’s third round for the first time in club history. They’ll look to do the unthinkable by beating an MLS powerhouse in one of the league’s most intimidating venues.
Atlanta Silverbacks vs Real Salt Lake (9:30PM, Rio Tinto Stadium)
RSL were among the MLS sides embarrassed by lower competition in the 2012 Open Cup, losing their third round matchup 3-1 to the NASL’s Minnesota Stars in what RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis has called the organization’s “most embarrassing moment.” They’ll likely be anxious to avoid repeating that experience as they welcome the Atlanta Silverbacks to Sandy this evening.
The Silverbacks, led by head coach Brian Haynes – a teammate of Kreis’ on the Dallas Burn’s 1997 USOC winning side – enter the match as winners of their past two league encounters, including a 1-0 victory over San Antonio this past weekend that vaulted them to the top of the NASL table. Bolstered by former MLS players like Mike Randolph (LA Galaxy) and Ruben Luna (FC Dallas), Salt Lake would do well not to look past this match.
What do you make of these matches? Do you see any PDL sides shocking an MLS club? Which matches stand out to you?
Share your thoughts below.