The Orange & Blue outlasted rival Louisville City FC at Nippert Stadium on Wednesday to advance to the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The teams traded goals in an even and rain-soaked first half. A Fanendo Adi strike in the 23rd minute was cancelled out seven minutes later by a goal from Louisville City’s Lucky Mkosana. The match went to extra time when a header by Kekuta Manneh in the 103rd minute decided the match. Adi’s first half goal was his first of 2019. The fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup is schedule for next week. Thursday’s draw will determine FC Cincinnati’s opponent and will likely be one of Atlanta United, Charleston Battery, Columbus Crew or Saint Louis FC.
Louisville City FC: Chris Hubbard, Taylor Peay, Alexis Souahy, Paco Craig, Napo Matsoso (Sunny Jane EHT’), Oscar Jimenez, Magnus Rasmussen, Paolo DelPiccolo 102’), Brian Ownby (George Davis IV 81’), Niall McCabe, Lucky Mkosana (Luke Spencer 70’)
Bench: Tim Dobrowolski, Pat MacMahon, Geoffrey Dee
Which second-round games should you tune into this week for your U.S. Open Cup entertainment?
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.
FC Cincinnati still has a ways to wait until the enter the U.S. Open Cup. What teams are we most excited to square against?
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.
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.
The U.S. Open Cup begins again. What lower-tier teams are expected to go far this year?
It has been almost one year since FC Cincinnati was accepted into Major League Soccer’s grandest stage. There have been perks from the call to the expanded field—scintillating match-ups against deeper talent, travel to bigger cities, the meaty prospects of a “Hell Is Real” Derby rematch twice a year—but a major downgrade is the fact that the Orange & Blue are no longer the underdogs. That also means we’ll have to wait before we see a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match that matters.
Fans in the Queen City owe a lot to the tournament that shined a light on the underdogs the brightest. FCC’s miracle run in 2017 was amplified even more by teams such as Miami FC blazing through Orlando and Atlanta, Sacramento Republic crushing Real Salt Lake, and local-qualifier darlings Christos FC rattling D.C. United. While there still hasn’t been a non-MLS team in the finals since 2008, each year another lower-tier team makes us believe.
For now, those “underdog” days are over for FC Cincinnati. The Orange & Blue now join the competition in the fourth round with 20 other MLS teams. However, we cannot forget that the Open Cup lifted our profile even higher than before, and that’s why we should be following the 106th edition of the Cup from the first round (which is still easy to do with the games all on ESPN+). We owe a lot to those phantasmic games in 2017.
But which teams could make a similar run for the Cup this year? This article will cover the lower leagues involved and the teams that could make the deepest invasion in the open competition.
Local Qualifiers – NTX Rayados
Since 2014, there has been at least one amateur team that had survived qualification rounds and climbed all the way to the fourth round to face an MLS squad. While a “local qualifier” has not managed to get further than this, last year’s highest-advancing amateur club, NTX Rayados from Dallas, TX, could likely repeat the run.
The glut of MLS, USL, and NPSL squads means that only 8 local amateur teams make the competition this year (compared to 13 last year). However, the Rayados have been a powerhouse in the United States Adult Soccer Association and have qualified the last eight years. Granted, they have only gotten out of the first round twice, but last year’s squad scored three times in added extra time against Oklahoma City Energy FC for the second-round upset.
While the team was hammered 5-0 by eventual champions Houston Dynamo, the team has pulled in help from a national junior-college champion team to keep the squad young and talented. It took two long penalty-kick wins to make it this far this year, including one that went eleven rounds, but NTX could easily find themselves in a rematch against OKC if they can get past Little Rock in the first round.
Remember when FC Cincinnati had a mini Ohio derby against AFC Cleveland in 2017? If Cleveland didn’t get past the first round, FCC would have had to travel to face the Menace in the second round. While Des Moines missed qualifying last year, their 13-1-0 record in 2018 gets them back into the tournament for the 11th time in 18 years.
Although the Menace failed to make it past the quarterfinals in the USL PDL tournament last year, the team returns a great deal of talent. The team has brought in Mark McKeever to helm the team this year, who led the Mississippi Brilla to the third round in the Open Cup last year. The Menace also bring back 2018 USL PDL MVP Ryosuke Kinoshita—the University of Louisville forward scored 17 goals for the Menace last year. He could be key in helping the team reach heights they haven’t seen since 2005, back when they beat USL1 teams Pittsburgh, Charleston, and Atlanta to get to the fourth round.
The run might not be easy though—a win means the Menace would have to host St. Louis FC in the second round. Considering they lost to St. Louis back in 2015, perhaps there’s an opportunity for an upset.
Is there really a team in the USL’s brand-new Division III league that could go far in the Open Cup? Only six of the ten teams are unaffiliated and can compete, so the pickings are slim in the first place. Much of the meat in the league would have to face the top teams in the USL (Nashville SC, Charleston Battery, Indy Eleven), and Forward Madison would have to send an untested team 1,400 miles to face El Paso.
We threw a dart at a map of the U.S., and it landed nearest to Richmond. Why not roll with the team that won it all way back in 1995 and reached the semifinals in 2011? Granted, they have a steep challenge ahead of them in drawing NCFC if they get to the second round, but young striker Joe Gallardo has done well to start the season with 3 goals in his first six games with the Kickers. Maybe lighting strikes a few times in a row?
While USL League Two (then PDL) has been considered the developmental half of Division IV soccer, the NPSL has to be considered the more regionally competitive half of the tier. The league has the most semi-pro representation in the U.S. Open Cup this year (14 teams), and it’s likely that the former NASL giants Miami FC could progress the furthest in the tournament this year.
Miami FC took major steps back last year in more ways than
one. Forced to flee to NPSL when the NASL collapsed, the semi-pro squad was
unable to get out of the USOC second round last year. However, the team still
rode the hot feet of midfielder Dylan Mares and striker Ariel Martinez to win
the 2018 NPSL Title, and the team’s only gotten better by signing ex-Red Bulls
pro Lloyd Sam and former Toronto goalkeeper Mark Pais.
Can Miami FC repeat the success that got them past Orlando
and Atlanta in 2017? That might be a bit of a harder challenge, but Miami
FC’s 10-0 win over division rivals Storm FC this past week ought to strike
fear in the USL Championship and League One teams. Miami FC should be able to
trounce local-qualifiers Florida Soccer Soldiers on their way to facing a shaky
Charlotte Independence squad next week. The step beyond that, however, could
lead to a clash of ex-NASL giants…
Part of me says that I shouldn’t play my chips this way.
Tampa Bay has had that rock-star persona over the past few years with big names
like Joe Cole and Marcel Schäfer gracing the pitch. However, this incarnation
of the Rowdies has not gotten far in Open Cup play. Their biggest win was a
third-round upset of Seattle in 2013, but they’ve never gotten past the fourth round
since starting in 2010.
Why should this year be any different? First of all, it
feels like the facelift to personnel has finally made the team younger and
hungrier. 2018 felt like a sendoff to multiple players heading into retirement
(Cole, Schäfer, Michael Nanchoff, Georgi Hristov), so it became the right time
for new coach Neill Collins to stockpile talent. MLS discards such as
midfielder Andrew Tinari and goalkeeper John McCarthy have fit in well, while
forward Sebastián Guenzatti is leaving his mark as the new strike force.
Talented USL standouts such as Zach Steinberger and Antoine Hoppenot have
filled out the rest of the roster.
With that complete roster, Tampa Bay has started the season
as one of two USL teams still undefeated. Considering they have the weekend off
before their second-round matchup against local USL League Two talent, as well
as a home stretch after that, Tampa Bay could go far in the Open Cup. If the
luck of the draw means they don’t have to travel great distances, I could see
them upsetting an Orlando City or Atlanta United squad down the line.
The immense explosion in USL expansion has created scenarios
where USL Championship squads will likely face each other or a USL League One
squad in the second round, so predicting an easy route to the third round isn’t
so simple this year. Six teams in the Western Conference for the USL
Championship will have to slug it out against each other, leaving some room for
the untested teams.
The most intriguing of those teams appears to be Las Vegas. Their
inaugural 2018 season was more circus than soccer with pre-game
llamas, money-drop promotions, and a
head coach who smoked in the stands during a preseason tilt against
Vancouver. However, the hiring of MLS stalwart Eric Wynalda suggested that the
team was ready to be taken seriously. Midfielder Irvin Parra has come back to
the USL revitalized, scoring five goals in the last five games, while
goalkeeper Thomas Olsen has started the season with four clean sheets.
Las Vegas will take on a relative lightweight in either FC Mulhouse (NPSL) or Cal FC (UPSL), and either team will have to travel far to get there. If Las Vegas win and get paired against Reno 1868 FC in the third round, the in-state rivalry could spark a streak.
Are the Lights ready for MLS competition? Perhaps. The 5-1 victory over Toronto in the preseason might be a measuring stick for such matters. If Vegas can make it to the fourth round and avoid matchups against the Los Angeles teams, I see an upset in the cards.
What teams in this year’s competition will go the furthest? What
giant-killing opportunities lurk on the horizon? The only way we’ll find out is
by letting it all play out to completion.