With the second-round matches of the U.S. Open Cup underway this week and the third-round matches on deck, Orange & Blue Press’s Connor Paquette and Geoff Tebbetts take a look at the higher-profile games you should be watching this week.
Las Vegas Lights FC (USLC) vs. Cal FC (UPSL)
Tuesday, May 7th, 10:30 PM
Welcome to the “WynalDerby”, ladies and gentlemen. (Okay, so that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.)
National Soccer Hall of Famer Eric Wynalda was one of the key figures that led amateur-squad Cal FC to immense success in 2012 as its head coach. After making it to the Open Cup tournament and knocking off Kitsap Pumas in the first round, Cal FC went on to slug the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads, 4-0. They then outlasted Portland 1-0 in the next round, one of the biggest shockers by an amateur qualifier against an MLS squad to date. (Seattle would smother the dream run, 5-0, on their own path to the finals.)
Wynalda’s departure to Atlanta Silverbacks the next year derailed all that momentum, but Cal FC has qualified numerous times since then. Their return to the limelight was interrupted in qualification last year—literally—by the stadium’s lights going out before the game ended, but the replay win against Cal United brought them back to prominence. Their win over FC Mulhouse means they have their first advancement past the first round since that 2012 squad. Veteran midfielders from that 2012 team, Richard Menjivar and Danny Barrera, have rejoined the club, perhaps for one more run to USOC stardom.
It’s only fitting that the team has to go through Wynalda to get to the next round. Las Vegas managed to get to the third round last year, only to stumble against PDL squad FC Golden State. Now Las Vegas has hired Wynalda to retool its offense with ex-Cal FC forward Irvin Parra leading the squad in scoring. With so many common denominators between the teams, this matchup could be far from formulaic.
Orange County SC (USLC) vs. Orange County FC (NPSL)
Wednesday, May 15th, 10:30 PM
Place your bets! FC or SC—which pseudo-Americanized moniker for clubs of the beautiful game is truly the best? Despite calling the same pitch home in Irvine, California, Wednesday at sundown will be our first-ever chance to find out.
Both Orange County clubs were founded roughly one decade ago, but they have travelled much different paths leading to their own unique successes. Orange County FC has steadily risen from the sixth-tier SoCal Premier League in 2007 to the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) in 2017, earning Elite-Eight playoff finishes over the last two seasons. In 2018, the team accomplished an eyebrow-raising 3rd-place finish among the 94 teams.
Orange County SC, recently transitioned to the USL Championship, is helmed by 2018 MVP finalist and ex-FC Cincinnati midfielder Aodhan Quinn. Last season, they dominated their way to finish atop their conference table, tied for second overall in the league. Unfortunately, second place would become a theme as OCSC would eventually fall to Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference finals.
While both OC teams made it to the second round of the U.S. Open Cup last year, OCFC stumbled against USL-level Fresno, and OCSC were thumped at home by FC Golden State. Two sour endings to promising seasons. Two chips, one for either shoulder. One County to claim. A rivalry is born.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (USLC) vs. Dayton Dutch Lions (USL2)
Tuesday, May 14th, 7 PM
What year is it? No matter—you probably forgot that these two teams once were league competitors. (Don’t worry; we did too.)
Back in the day, when USL Championship was still known as USL Pro, Dayton and Pittsburgh were close rivals in the League’s National Division. Starting in 2011, Dayton specifically wasn’t much of a threat. They posted an abysmal two wins and 16 losses that year, but of the few teams they managed to overthrow, the elusive first win was against Pittsburgh. And yet surprisingly, it was Dayton who made it to the quarterfinals of the 2012 U.S. Open Cup, even going so far as to knock out the Columbus Crew along the way.
Since their last head-to-head meeting, Pittsburgh has reinvented their soccer identity; in 2018, they adopted a new crest, matched their colors to the city’s iconic yellow and black, and tagged an “SC” to the end of their name to cap it off. The hire of Bob Lilley has brought them back to a competitive level, but they’ve yet to make a significant impact in the Open Cup. The Riverhounds haven’t gotten past the 4th round since 2001, when they almost beat Chicago in the quarterfinals.
These two clubs have a brief but competitive history against one another. Amazingly, it’s Dayton who holds the head-to-head advantage, having a 4-2-2 record against the Riverhounds during their four-year USL Pro stint. Thus, if Pittsburgh wishes to continue their evolution and reach the pinnacle of lower division soccer, they must first smite their ancient rival.
Greenville Triumph SC (USL1) vs. Charleston Battery (USLC)
Wednesday, May 15th, 7 PM
There hasn’t been much competition in South Carolina over the past few decades. Charleston has enjoyed a healthy 25 years as the preeminent soccer club in The Palmetto State. The Battery have arguably been the strongest lower-tier team in the U.S. Open Cup during the MLS Era, twice making it as far as the semifinals and finishing as runners-up to D.C. United in 2008. The last time they faced another South Carolina team in the U.S. Open Cup was back in 2002 when they beat the Greenville Lions, 3-0.
Speaking of Greenville, when the Triumph joined USL League One this year, the team rolled high to hire former FC Cincinnati head coach John Harkes to the same position. It probably was the biggest splash in a league that has started a little like a ripple. But while Greenville itself is in the middle of the table after ten games, the Triumph’s big win against rival South Georgia last week set up an interesting matchup.
Picture it—Cincinnati, 2016. Harkes had just led upstart FC Cincinnati to the USL playoffs. In the team’s first ever playoff game, the Orange & Blue were dealt a devastating 2-1 loss to…the Charleston Battery, the same team Harkes faces this week.
Perhaps both sides wouldn’t consider this to be a revenge game, but this is the first USL Championship squad Harkes has faced since then. In addition, he’s brought in a few players from that 2016 FCC team (goalkeeper Dallas Jaye, defenders Evan Lee and Tyler Polak) who probably still remember that loss pretty well too.
OKC Energy FC (USLC) vs. NTX Rayados (North Texas PSA)
Tuesday, May 14th, 8:30 PM
There could arguably be bigger games this week between beefier USL squads, but none are as intriguing as this David and Goliath battle in which you don’t know who is who.
Surprisingly, the local qualifier teams have done well to get past the first round this year. Five of the eight qualifiers won their matchups last week, but the Rayados possibly had the hardest route to get there. Due to heavy rains, the Rayados found their flight cancelled, forcing the team to drive 320 miles to play the Little Rock Rangers. Despite an early lead, the Rayados were down 2-1 at halftime to the Rangers. After going down to 10 men from a late red card, the Rayados pulled off a miracle equalizer in stoppage time, then won the shootout to advance.
The miracle stoppage-time equalizer is exactly how these two teams played their game last year. Down 2-1 to the Energy, the Rayados managed a 90th-minute penalty kick to save their tournament, then pounded three extra-time goals to stun the USL squad 5-2. The second-round loss was OKC’s earliest exit ever in the tournament, so it’s pretty evident the Energy will want to exact revenge on their own turf this time.
Phoenix Rising (USLC) vs. New Mexico United (USLC)
Wednesday, May 15th, 9:30 PM
Phoenix has taken their name to heart and lit the lower division soccer world on fire in recent years. As a player-owner, Chelsea legend Didier Drogba showed the good people of Arizona an electrifying atmosphere that most sports can’t imagine reaching at this level. They continued their charge in atmosphere on the field, making the 2018 USL finals only to fall to the defending Champions, Louisville City FC. But although successful in the community and in their own league, the squad has yet to do serious damage in Open Cup play; they’ve only made it to the 4th round once, back in 2014 when they were Arizona United SC.
To spite Phoenix further, the hottest story in the Southwest now resides in New Mexico United. One of seven expansion teams in USL Championship, NMU have taken the league by storm, bringing in over 12,000 fans per game at Isotopes Field in Albuquerque. The newest team sporting yellow and black has come out swinging, dropping only one game on the season. They’re led by the high-octane forwards Kevaughn Frater and Santi Moar; each of whom are tied for the Western Conference lead in goals scored possess both Player-of-the-Month and Goal-of-the-Month honors to start the season.
How will their neighbors respond? For the most part, Phoenix has enjoyed isolation of marketplace in the Southwest, as their closest true rivals were in the distant lands of Texas and California. But with Phoenix’s slow start to the season and New Mexico rising to the East, a new threat has emerged. Yellow and Black versus Red and Black—the border war begins.
Third-round matchups will be played on or around May 29th, with fourth-round matchups (and FC Cincinnati’s game) announced the following Thursday, May 30th.