Cal FC has become the story of U.S. club soccer in recent weeks, and the amateur side's biggest test yet is on tap for Tuesday night.
The fifth-tier side takes on the three-time defending U.S. Open Cup champion Seattle Sounders in a fourth-round match that will be nationally televised on Fox Soccer Channel. After a triumph over the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field, the stakes rise even more for Cal FC, but coach Eric Wynalda is confident in his group and has a pointed message for the Sounders.
"I was worried about it last week that they would play to the occasion, but they responded," Wynalda told SBI via telephone. "I didn't really manage the game particularly well. We'll have a minor tweak in the way we address this game. It definitely will throw Seattle off. At some point they will be standing there counting heads trying to figure out what happened."
Here is a closer look at all of Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup fourth-round matches:
U.S. OPEN CUP FOURTH ROUND
CAROLINA RAILHAWKS VS. CHIVAS USA (7:07 p.m., WakeMed Park)
After toppling the Los Angeles Galaxy in the last round, the RailHawks are out to defeat the other half of the SuperClasico duo. It seems as if the win over the Galaxy has focused the NASL side, as it won its first league game of the season over the weekend.
Chivas, meanwhile, is coming off a victory over the Ventura County Fusion and has new life after acquiring Juan Agudelo and Danny Califf.
D.C. UNITED VS. PHILADELPHIA UNION (7:30 p.m., Maryland SportsPlex)
One of two MLS vs. MLS matchups in the round, these two teams will see one another again when they resume league play on June 16. Ben Olsen is expecting both teams to put out first-choice lineups, and he'll have just about everyone available to him save for the recovering Chris Pontius (glute strain) and Dwayne De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic, who are on international duty with Canada.
"It's a chance for us to get a trophy back," Olsen said. "There's a CONCACAF berth at the end of this, and that's something I want to be a part of and this organization wants to be a part of. It's changed everything in this tournament. You're four, five games away from playing in (the CCL). This organization has loved being a part of that competition. We've done well in it, and I want to get back to that, so this is another step in that direction."
The match also marks the return of current Union and former D.C. United players and area products Freddy Adu and Brian Carroll and former D.C. United coach and current Union boss Peter Nowak to the region.
HARRISBURG CITY ISLANDERS VS. NEW YORK RED BULLS (7:30 p.m., Skyline Sports Complex)
Thierry Henry will not be making the trip to Harrisburg, but the Red Bulls will still be fielding as first-choice a squad as possible despite numerous absences in their quest to put last year's debacle in the rear-view mirror and make a concerted effort to win their first trophy.
After watching his team come back from a three-goal deficit in extra time to defeat the New England Revolution in the last round, Islanders coach Bill Becher is prepared for anything and everything come gametime.
"The (Red Bulls) offense seems to be clicking on all cylinders," Becher told SBI. "Defensively they started a little slow, but they've started to figure it out. It's definitely a challenge for us. What they did to Charleston (in the last round), nobody in our league does that. We know that we have a huge test in front of us. Based on the lineup they put out there, they're taking it serious and trying to win this."
Becher also added that the Red Bulls approached Harrisburg about switching hosting rights, but even if the two had agreed to terms it would have come too late in the process to pull off the move.
MICHIGAN BUCKS VS. DAYTON DUTCH LIONS (7:30 p.m., Oakland University Soccer Field)
If not for Cal FC, PDL's Michigan Bucks would be getting a bit more of the limelight, especially after a victory over the Chicago Fire.
With New England Revolution academy player Scott Caldwell and Columbus Crew academy player Chad Barson, the Bucks, who traditionally have succeeded in the Open Cup, have two up-and-coming University of Akron players in the lineup and are hopeful of springing another surprise. Don't expect the Bucks to be overwhelmed by the moment, though.
"If they didn't puke all over themselves against Chicago, I don't think they'll do so against Dayton," Bucks coach Gary Parsons told SBI.
Dayton, meanwhile, is looking to complete its assault on the Columbus Crew program. After defeating the MLS side last week, the 0-5-4 USL Pro club takes aim at the Bucks, a Crew affiliate.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY VS. COLORADO RAPIDS (8:30 p.m., Livestrong Sporting Park)
The other MLS vs. MLS matchup is a rematch from a league game less than three weeks ago, when Teal Bunbury's two early goals were cancelled out by strikes from defenders Tyrone Marshall and Kosuke Kimura.
The scene shifts from Dick's Sporting Goods Park to Livestrong Sporting Park, where Sporting KC is 5-1-0 this season in MLS play and just beat Orlando City SC 3-2 in the last round of the Open Cup.
SAN ANTONIO SCORPIONS VS. CHARLOTTE EAGLES (8:30 p.m., Heroes Stadium)
Both teams took down Texas MLS sides, with San Antonio eking by the Houston Dynamo and Charlotte getting by FC Dallas. Now, one of the two lower-tier sides will find a place in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
The Eagles, just 2-7-2 in USL Pro play, are another one of the shock participants in the Round of 16, while the Scorpions are in the mix near the top of the NASL table and will have home-field advantage.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS VS. CAL FC (10:30 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel, Starfire Sports Complex)
The Sounders continue their quest for Open Cup No. 4 in a row amid the spotlight of Cal FC and the controversy sparked by Sigi Schmid's comments about U.S. Soccer conspiring to have the Sounders eliminated from the tournament.
On paper, this is perhaps the most lopsided matchup in Open Cup history, with the four-tier distance between the two clubs playing heavily into Seattle's favor. Not like that stopped Cal FC in the last round, though.
"We match up much better with Seattle than how we did with Portland," Wynalda said. "I want them to play, I want them to do their thing. I invite them into the game, because our guys know the more open this game is the more opportunities they'll have to do their thing. The last game against Portland, fitness and physicality got to us. It won't be the same kind of game. It'll be a spectacle, because both teams are capable of playing a high level of football."
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES VS. MINNESOTA STARS (11 p.m., Cagan Stadium)
Stars coach Manny Lagos takes on the team for which he used to play, as Minnesota attempts to take down a second straight MLS Western Conference power.
The Stars went into Rio Tinto Stadium after selling off hosting rights for the third round and stunned Real Salt Lake. With confidence growing, they'll hit the road again to take on an Earthquakes side that is without the likes of Chris Wondolowski and Victor Bernardez, who are both away on international duty.