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U.S. Open Cup: Upsets galore as four MLS teams fall


When six MLS teams took the field on Tuesday night in U.S. Open Cup play, the group was expected to be able to handle competition from lower level USL teams (and one PDL team). By the end of the night, only D.C. United was able to win in regulation, while four other MLS teams saw their U.S. Open Cup runs ended.

The Chicago Fire, New England Revolution, Chivas USA and Columbus Crew all suffered defeats in third-round play on Tuesday night, while the Kansas City Wizards needed penalty kicks to knock off the Minnesota Thunder.

The tournament's Cinderella story heading into the third round, the Ocean City Barons, put up a brave fight against D.C. United, but eventually fell, 2-0. D.C. needed 74 minutes to finally break through Ocean City's defense and put an end to the PDL team's improbable run through the tournament.

The Wizards nearly became the fifth MLS team to bow out on Tuesday, but eventually downed the Thunder in penalty kicks after squandering the lead on three different occasions.

So why the rash of upsets? It probably isn't a coincidence that three of the four MLS teams that lost on Tuesday also participated in SuperLiga last week. Those coaches had little choice but to play reserves, and all three paid the price.

When it boils down to it, once you strip away the very top players from most MLS teams, the group you have left isn't that much better in terms of talent level than most top USL squads. So when you have teams with comparable talent meet, the groups that actually have games played together is going to have the edge. Nevermind the fact that the U.S. Open Cup means far more to USL players than it does to MLS players.

That shouldn't take away from the accomplishments of the USL teams that delivered Tuesday's upsets. Wilmington still had to face the likes of Bakary Soumare and Patrick Nyarko in beating the Chicago Fire, 1-0, and the Rochester Rhinos still had to take on the likes of Alejandro Moreno and Emmanuel Ekpo in beating the Columbus Crew in penalty kicks. The Charleston Battery still had to take on the likes of Jesse Marsch and Paulo Nagamura, but still posted a 3-1 victory.

Then you had the Harrisburg City Islanders, a USL-2 team, knocking off an injury-ravaged New England Revolution side, winning with an overtime goal to pull off the biggest upset of the night.

The Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders will look to restore some pride for MLS tonight in some key rivalry match-ups. The Dynamo take on the Austin Aztecs while the Sounders face long-time rival Portland Timbers in the most highly-anticipated match-up of the third round.

What do you think of all the upsets of MLS teams? Disappointed? Happy for the USL teams? Still wondering why the U.S. Open Cup isn't taken more seriously by MLS teams?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Alot of USL teams deal with fixture congestion as intense or worse than MLS teams. Miami just finished playing 6 games in 12 days including a long trip to Vancouver, about 3,000 miles.

    Charleston for one has been all over the place recently, down to Puerto Rico twice, Miami, Rochester, etc.

    The Fire situation is sad because under Peter Wilt and John Guppy they emphasized the open cup and dominated it, but this current ownership would rather line their pocket with friendlies and superliga than compete in the nation’s oldest cup competition. But Chicago still has 5 more open cups than the metrobulls.

  2. Not shocked with New England’s loss. They’re playing SuperLiga matches and already have a slew of injuries. They’re probably just as happy to have one less tournament to play in.

    Tough for me to decide who to root for – my favorite MLS team Revolution or my favorite USL-2 team City Islanders.

  3. ChattanoogaFC Fan wrote: “It sickens me to see the US Open Cup treated with such apathy by the top league in our country. I can’t even imagine EPL teams feeling that way about the FA Cup, La Liga teams feeling that way about the Copa Del Rey, or Serie A teams feeling that way about the Coppa Italia…….”

    I can make this easy for you.

    MLS teams treat the USOC exactly the same way that Euro teams treat their secondary cups. You think Arsenal runs out their best XI for a League Cup game against Yeovil. No. And Yeovil will win at about the same rate that Charleston will.

    So think of the USOC as the League Cup. Think of MLS Cup as the FA Cup (that is, a prestigous knockout tournament with important international consequences). Think of the Supporters’ Shield as the league championship, earned by hard work and passion over the course of the entire season.

    Works for me anyway. But then I love the USOC.

  4. @Chatanooga: Which system were you referring to when you were talking about ideas?

    USOC? Pro/rel? Investment in clubs?

  5. Phil, the Dynamo/Austin and the Portland/Sounders game are both on USL Live for free.

    I watched the Battery-Chivas game last night, and it was clear the Chivas players were not playing at full speed. Whether it was the cross-country trip, being tired from Superliga, or just not caring, I don’t know. But it wasn’t hard to figure out they weren’t exactly giving their all. Although, it was pretty cool seeing Preki being restrained and escorted by no less than three police officers after the game. I really thought he was going to assault the referee after the game.

    I do think that a lack of some kind of reserve league did have an effect in the outcome of these games. Perhaps if the new labor agreement can expand the rosters enough for teams to at least have enough players to field a team in a regional PDL division, they can get minutes, and won’t have to spend a ton of money on travel. Surely something can be done.

  6. It’s hard to imagine the Harrisburg City Islanders playing in the Concacaf Champions League. That would be pretty amazing to see.

  7. The Revolution have played two Super League games, the open cup last night and the LA Gals on Saturday. We’re already banged up and Twellman is on IR and may never play again. Tell me why we should take the Open Cup seriously? We finished the game with 8 players on the field and lost in over time

  8. It sickens me to see the US Open Cup treated with such apathy by the top league in our country. I can’t even imagine EPL teams feeling that way about the FA Cup, La Liga teams feeling that way about the Copa Del Rey, or Serie A teams feeling that way about the Coppa Italia…….

  9. Promotion and relegation will never happen in the US – way too much risk. The quality of MLS is fine and will grow as attendance grows. There’s nothing wrong with the system. In fact, I’ll bet you that Europe changes to our style before we change to theirs (since promoting and relegating is one of the real culprits behind the 100 mil + debt of these large teams).

  10. Yanki: I know you’re right, but I can’t help but think we’re all going to be stuck watching crap-ass quality professional soccer in this country until it does.

    I would love to hear suggestions from some folks here on how they would (realistically) improve the system if they could.

  11. Note that’s the Austin Aztex (not “Aztecs”) playing Houston tonight. Should be a good game, we’re expecting lots of Dynamo fans to make the drive over. I sure hope Houston gets added to the list of MLS teams that bomb out of the Cup.

    The game will be broadcast on (free registration required) if you want to check it out. Forgive the American football gridiron lines on the artificial turf. Austin is a first-year expansion team in USL-1, and currently plays in a high school football stadium.

  12. This may sound like sour grapes but knowing that the Fire were playing their 4th game in 11 nights due to SuperLiga I was not surprised by that loss. And frankly I’m not disappointed by it.

    Coming off that run they have 5 games in July including the SuperLiga Semi with 2 starters arleady off with their national teams (Pause and Segares – not to mention Busch on call). And even if they were to win the whole Cup the incentive (CCL berth) is the same as winning their Conf. in the regular season which puts a team (assuming it wasn’t my Fire who can’t win at home) in a good position for an MLS Cup run.

    Just a fact of the league that this tournament can’t be prioritized.

  13. @Chattanooga: Sorry, Bro but it is not going to happen. Probably not for decades. There are places like the US and Australia (another good example) where it just will not happen because it costs so much to buy in…

  14. I think the entire pro system in the US is going to suck and lag behind most of the world until the USSF figures out a way to create a 2 or 3 tiered promotion & relegation system out of the MLS and USL and truly make them compete for the chance to earn the big bucks.

  15. As a Sounder fan we will now after tonight have seen it both ways. In the USL the team ran out the best 11 players which is what we expect.

    As an MLS team playing in the Open Cup I don’t think you run out your best 11 for this, especially on the road on a crappy field. I want to see them win, but not at the expense of potentially losing either of the Freddies. If Alonso was healthy I would keep him away from the field as well.

    MLS Cup or Open Cup that is an easy decision.

    In England most teams use their reserves until they get to the late stages of the tournament.

    As we have seen here it isn’t a shocker for the USL teams to win, The Sounders seemed to do it at least once a year.

  16. The league just doesn’t have enough depth to play all of these tournaments. 5 more senior slots and an extra mil on the salary cap should go a long way towards curing this.

  17. agree that most MLS teams are not deep with talent. But there should be no reason for MLS teams not take this tournament as serious as the MLS regular season.

    Take D.C. United, they had a lousy season last year with the bad players they picked up during the offseason. The Open Cup is the reason they are in the CONCACAF Champions League. MLS teams are making a huge mistake by not taking the Open Cup as seriously as they should.

  18. yankiboy: I didn’t sleep on Wilmington. The way they beat my Railhawks in the 2nd round left me absolutely gutted. We had that game won in the 118th minute, but they caught our GK off his line at the death, tied it up and won on PKs. (I know the stakes weren’t nearly as high, but when Wilmington equalized, I understood exactly how Chelsea supporters felt when John Terry missed that PK.)

    So yeah, I’m trying not to be bitter about this.

    Portland v. Seattle will be one hell of a match tonight. If you’ve got the DirecTV Sports Pack, it’ll be on Channel 687. I think the Sounders will field a strong side in this competition, as they don’t have anything other than league play to distract them. But they’ll need it tonight.

  19. I was at the Rhinos-Crew game last night and I have to say I think the format is great – it was a great game. The Crew started their B squad, but I think the level of play was fine. Don’t forget, the USL plays a lot of games as well, so they cannot always field their best 11.

    I think the big difference between the two squads was experience and nationalities. The Crew reserves, because of the MLS rules, was made up mostly of young Americans. The Rochester team had more experience and internationals. Even though I’m a Rochester fan, I have to admit the Crew probably had the better of the play for most of the game.

    Even though I agree that MLS needs more cap and players for some of the other competitions, I think the way this competition is handled is great. It’s a great opportunity for the MLS to get their younger players games. The USL takes the competition more seriously, and it shows. As a USL fan, I love this competition and it’s great to see so many USL teams advance.

    Now, to knock off DC united 🙂

  20. I love this tournament, I sincerely wish it was more than a mere inconvenience to MLS teams. More than one thing needs to change in order to right the situation, but I think the place to start is scrapping Superliga…

    I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy that tournament even when the team I support won it.

  21. I watched the KC vs Minn game, score line doesnt show the difference in taletn and the run of play. The MLS reserves (when in) were clearly more talented. Great job counter attacking by Minn though, their first 2 goals were from PK’s and the 3rd was a gaff by the Wiz back-up.

  22. Charleston over ChivasUSA- I called that one.

    Rochester over Columbus- I called that one down to the pks.

    I slept on Wilimington. I probably shouldn’t have but Chicago tends to take the USOC more seriously (when Osorio isn’t around). Huge win. That club is night and day better compared to last year.

    Minnesota has struggled mightly in USL1 this year–they have only won one game but that club shines during USOC play.

    Which is kind of what makes this sort of tournament so fascinating. When a USL2 side comes to town to play Crystal Palace Baltimore or when I follow Puerto Rico Islanders on USLive or get to a few of their matches, a lot of the clubs are often playing at a level that gets jacked up during USOC because it is a chance for them to shine.

  23. DC might have wanted to lose last night. They’ve just set themselves up for a spell of 4 games in 10 days that includes a cross country trip in the end of July (and a busy beginning of Aug).

    18th vs Colorado

    21st or 22nd – Open Cup

    25th @ SJ

    28th CL preliminary match

    1st @ Houston

    4th Cl prelim in El Salvador

    It’s not like they have a huge lead or a playoff spot locked up in East. So What do they concentrate on? MLS, CL or USOC?

    With these smaller rosters we won’t ever see an MLS team close to a treble for a long time. A double is very unlikely!

  24. @yankiboy: yes, eventually eight of them did. perhaps i stated my point badly–it’s not about the subjective significance of the upset, and it’s not that i don’t expect better (nervy corner kicks are not a new thing with knighton, for instance). my point is, it took a lot of adverse circumstances to get their reserves down to the level of that USL2 side, to the anything-can-happen point, and i think this runs counter to ives’ original statement. last year, as we saw, was a different matter–their first half was smoke and mirrors and the depth illusory at best.

  25. The cause of these losses to USL teams has been written about already, and it won’t get better for awhile. Until MLS has enough roster space, cap space, and money to have a roster of 24-28 quality players, results like this are going to happen. Any MLS team that is playing in another competition outside of league is going to be stretched beyond its capacity. Losses are to be expected.

    You want to have a real shocking result? Have those USL teams play MLS teams in MLS stadiums, with their starters, and then beat them. We can all agree that MLS starting XIs are better to a man in most cases than USL squads.

  26. Who considers MLS a premier league? Anyway, I don’t like to see the Fire lose, but if they’re not going to win the Open Cup, I’d rather that a USL team win it so that we see more USL teams in the CCL.

  27. I have to admit that I should have seen the Harrisburg win coming but I slept on them:

    They have a good team. They are at the top of USL2 table.

    They beat DC United in USOC play not too long ago (couple years if I recall correctly).

    I have seen them play a lot and they are always very organized.

    I got blinded by some of the good things that I saw from the Revs in Superliga and banked too much on some guys trying to impress Nichols when he gave them a shot to do something.

    Also, with the ejections, etc–that is often very hard to predict.

  28. I was at the Revs/Islanders game last night and I can easily say taht it was the worst Soccer I have ever seen in my entire life. I had to apologize to my non-soccer fan friend that I brought to the game with me, even though of course he left early.

  29. @JoeW: You make some good points but I have to disagree with you about the quality of the players not being an issue. I agree with others who say that after a certain point on an MLS roster (and it is before 11, in the case of most every MLS club), there isn’t much of a difference between the “elite” USL1 and occasional USL2 guy.

    In the case of the USL1 sides, USLive is free. They have absolutely no excuse to not have had an assistant do some scouting. The Barons are PDL-so I get Soehn’s angle there. But the MLS clubs that slept on the USL1 sides–that is nothing less than apathy or poor preparation if they failed to check out some of their matches. Heck, some of the USL1 clubs feature highlights so that you don’t have to watch the full matchif you are pressed for time of feeling lazy. How about checking out some USL match reports.

    Some of the MLS sides were still losing when the reserve league was around but I do agree with your point that it’s death hasn’t helped the MLS success in the the USOC any. In fact-to the contrary–it has made the USL1 and USL2 stronger because some of that MLS talent filtered down providing more depth.

  30. @spiny: I would say that it is a very BIG upset. The Rev lost two a USL2 side that played a game last Friday and then a game on Saturday.

    The fact that the Rev reserves needed pks to get past Crystal Palace Baltimore last year indicates to me that maybe there has been some overestimation of the New England “diamond in the rough factory”.

    Maybe Nichols diidn’t take the match too seriously or maybe he expected more of his reserves.

  31. No, it’s not about the quality of players. The USL teams have been playing together and are highly motivated and are basically unknowns to the MLS sides (Tom Soehn admitted that he’d seen no video on the Ocean City Barons–DCU tried but just couldn’t find any–this from a team that tapes hundreds of hours of South American and Central American games each month for scouting).

    1. It’s a shame that the MLS sides don’t take this more seriously.

    2. The elimination of the reserve league really hurt MLS. Because just about every MLS team was a hodge-podge. Not 2-3 new starters. But usually 5-7 new starters (some of whom weren’t just reserves but they’d never played together). That’s not an excuse. It’s just the reality of what MLS is at this point–especially if you’re about 17th or 20th or 22nd on the bench.

    3. I really hate to say this b/c I like this competition. But for a number of teams (especially Columbus, Houston, NE, maybe Chivas) it does them well if they ARE eliminated. Here’s why:

    Last year, DCU and NE played 50+ competitive matches (excluding friendlies, exhibitions, pre-season, games against college teams and so on) last season. That’s a phenomenal number of games considering:
    –the length of the season (MLS is not a 10 month season like England)
    –the size of the rosters

    When you play the USOC, SuperLiga, CL, SudAmerica, Pan-Asian Cup, “World Series of Soccer” or other such stuff, those games add up. Especially since the schedule isn’t balanced (in terms of games per month). Every MLS team will have a stretch where they play 5 games in 16-17 days. You can weather a rough stretch with good conditioning, a little depth and some luck in terms of injuries. But then add another stretch where you play SuperLiga home and aways. Or CL home and aways. Or USOC matches. It may seem like “only” 4-6 matches (or less if you get eliminated in some of these competitions early). But it adds up. It’s usually a day of travel. It’s a change in routine. It’s realistically two days of lost practice (maybe even 3–day before, game day, recovery day).

    Now the game experience is great. But the end result is that even teams like DC United end up emptying the bench for their starting lineup. And Christian Gomez was on the subs bench (and played) against Ocean City because DC United had no more players–everyone else was injured/in recovery or with their respective Gold Cup teams.

    I originally predicted that Columbus would start fast but either not make the playoffs or would finish maybe 4th in the EAst and then get eliminated. That was based on the assumption that they’d get some carryover from last year but with a long season made longer with tournaments they didn’t play in last year (and if they advanced in USOC), the chances of an injury to a key player (like Schelotto or Marshall) were much greater and they’d end poorly.

    With some teams playing 50+ games in competition a year and others play 35, that’s a tremendous inequity that has a hidden impact on competition (by aiding the teams playing significantly fewer games).

  32. I’m hoping Sigi is highlighting the results of last nights games to his team. Not that we need a lot motivation to get up for the cinders.

  33. DC United don’t have to face a MLS team in order to get to the final. Although as seen yesterday facing USL teams aren’t necessarily easy it is still easier than facing MLS teams.

  34. Another embarassing night for MLS. I think it is funny that they want to be considered a premier league, but continually get embarassed in competitions like the Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League. MLS needs to add more roster spots to their clubs, but they also need to get rid of the apathy towards tournaments other than the MLS Cup. As a fan, I want my team to try to win every trophy it can and at least put up a fight, not go out with a whimper and make excuses every year.

  35. How is it a huge upset to have an 10- then 9- then 8- man Revs side that was already missing six of its preferred eleven on two days’ rest beaten? Seems to me that they were down to reserves at the start, who played well (and have been doing so in Superliga, too), and then lost on an a mistake after having several more hands tied behind their back, not to mention the fact that Nicol subbing three guys at the half suggests that they maybe weren’t taking it so seriously.

    While i agree wholeheartedly that MLS teams need more depth, i’m a heck of a lot more worried about how they’re going to put a team on the field against LA this weekend than any systemic weakness versus lower-division sides.

  36. I think all the US Open Cup needs is a bit more press. I think with writers likes Ives and Goff covering and mentioning these games will only be good for the popularity of the tournament.

    Glad to see some of the lower league teams winning.

  37. This is ludicrous, it shows what the real talent level is in MLS. After the first 14-15 on MLS rosters the next 10 are basically USL-2 type of players. I fully expect Portland to beat Seattle tonight as well. Now we will have to hear the same crap that we did last year during the concacaf champions league that MLS teams really aren’t that good. The fact is any MLS starting 11 could hammer any USL-1 starting 11 at anytime.

  38. Seems MLS need to up the salary cap and roster spots if they want their teams to compete in so many compititions. It shouldn’t hurt teams to play non-league games, it shopuld be a showcase, but unfortunately the MLS handicaps their teams and thus makes itself look bad.

  39. Well now RBNY’s loss last year doesn’t look quite as bad but, still if MLS teams want to compete in multiple competitions the reserve league needs to come back.


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