The 106th U.S. Open Cup kicks off tonight at 7pm ET. FC Cincinnati possesses one of the most incredible Cinderella stories to ever grace the tournament with their 2017 climb to the Final Four. Since then, the tournament has been a fan favorite and the only opportunity for supporters to see the Orange and Blue take on rivals outside of their league.
This year, the format changes slightly, as FC Cincinnati don’t play until two rounds later than usual. With that in mind, here are the Top 5 teams for lower division clubs that I personally want to see FCC face when they enter the tournament in Round 4.
For simplicity, we’re keeping our choices aimed at Northeast/Central teams, since FC Cincinnati is most likely to join one of those regions in the bracket.
Honorable Mentions: Greenville Triumph, FC Baltimore, Birmingham Legion, Memphis 901 FC, Nashville SC
5. Louisville City FC
I was originally going to put Lou City in the honorable mentions, but I believe they need an explanation as to why they’re not ranked higher. After all, in my biased opinion the Dirty River Derby was the rivalry of lower-division American soccer. From Streamer-Gate to Bite-Gate, from James O’Connor’s bee-suit promo to the Hurricane at Slugger, there was so much drama when these two clubs met on the pitch.
But that’s just it–they’ve faced each other so many times in the past. Not to dismiss the quality of play, but there have already been so many incredible games and stories between these two clubs. No matter the divisions, these cities and teams will be linked for the rest of their existences. While a trip down Memory Lane in the form of another Open Cup match would certainly draw, it simply wouldn’t have as much impact, since the last rivalry game has been so recent.
With Louisville repeating as champs in 2018, their former head coach O’Connor being hired by Orlando City, and Cincinnati winning the regular-season pennant on their way out the door, it felt like the page had been turned. Now we need to let time pass so that it will be a fresh start when the rivalry is one day revisited.
4. Saint Louis FC
Rumors are circulating that the Lou is next in line to join Major League Soccer. Now would be a wonderful opportunity for FCC to build on rivalries ripe for explosion. I was uncertain if Nashville SC belonged here, but while FC Cincinnati has already had a fair share of moments against Nashville, last year Saint Louis was treading water as a big-time club under-performing in a different conference.
But that’s changed over the past year. With many former FCC players on the roster (Kyle Greig, Kadeem Dacres, Matt Bahner, and 2018 fan-favorite Russell Cicerone) Saint Louis currently sits at 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. With their potential to rise ever further in the American soccer landscape, recognizable names for long-time FCC supporters, and relative proximity to the Orange and Blue, a reunion would be a welcome match to help FCC kick off their 2019 U.S. Open campaign.
3. Forward Madison FC
This one is a bit personal. Forward Madison FC is a ridiculously fun club making its mark in USL League One already. Their social-media presence has been a phenomenal addition, and they are setting the standard for what lower-division soccer clubs are capable of in terms of fan experience both inside and outside matches.
With that in mind, an encounter against one of football’s recent great creation stories in FC Cincinnati would be a fantastic way to help a club with so much potential build their brand and make a tremendous impact on a city newer to the professional soccer landscape. Give me the ‘Mingos!
2. Indy Eleven
Congratulations to Indy Eleven for being recognized as a top-tier team alongside the likes of the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts. Dreams for MLS expansion on the mind, Indy put together an incredible campaign to earn the support of their local and state government to build a soccer-specific-stadium as part of a much larger development.
Indy being so high on this list shouldn’t come as a surprise. FC Cincinnati supporters only got a small taste of the potential rivalry Indy brought to the table when they transitioned from the NASL during the 2018 off-season. Their close proximity enticed thousands of FCC fans to travel for the Orange and Blue’s second game of the year. I imagine a very similar crowd would sojourn once more.
What’s even more exciting about the potential of facing the Indy Eleven is the reunion with familiar faces of many fan favorites. Former players Kenney Walker, Paddy Barrett, Tyler Gibson, and Evan Newton all signed with Indy for the year. Orange-and-Blue blood streams through all of them, and it would be all the more pleasurable to kick off the cup campaign by inviting them back to the place they helped build.
1. Dayton Dutch Lions
Nearly all the teams I’ve mentioned to this point have faced FC Cincinnati at one time or another. However, one club, just an hour north of Nippert, has never had the opportunity to play one of Ohio’s biggest clubs. It’s time to change that. The Dayton Dutch Lions are entering their 10th year as a club. What better way to further develop their history than to play FCC?
It’s very likely Dayton is a target market for FC Cincinnati when they eventually create a USL affiliate. Whether or not they pursue that location route, building a relationship with a top market in the state (and one FCC is competing with Columbus over) is not only necessary, but recommended. It’s a win-win situation. Of all the prospective match-ups the U.S. Open Cup could provide, this is the team we’d be most fortunate to face.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press to follow FC Cincinnati’s season and their potential entrance into the U.S. Open Cup.