On The Radar: Second-Round U.S. Open Cup Matches To Watch

Which second-round games should you tune into this week for your U.S. Open Cup entertainment?

Image: Joe Craven

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.

The Top 5 U.S. Open Cup Opponents FCC Should Face

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.

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.

Know Your Enemy: Minnesota United FC

FC Cincinnati gets the good fortune to host another MLS team in the U.S. Open Cup, so let’s learn a little about Minnesota United FC.

Matchup: FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. Minnesota United FC (MLS)
2018 U.S. Open Cup, 4th Round
When:Wednesday, June 6th, 7:30 PM
Where: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH

There may not be many of these underdog stories left.

With FC Cincinnati’s spot in the MLS seemingly locked up for next year, each game in the U.S. Open Cup could be their last as a USL team. While fans salivated for a return match against either Chicago or Columbus, a home match against a different MLS squad will have to be the next step to the top.

Last month, FCC beat the system twice to get to the fourth round of the Open Cup. After a second-round nail-biter against Detroit City FC, the Orange & Blue finally beat a team helmed by Bob Lilley, riding three consecutive goals to edge the Riverhounds in Pittsburgh, 3-1. The next box to check is a fourth-round match against Minnesota United FC, a team that climbed a similar ladder to get to MLS.

Minnesota’s first year in MLS was expectedly subpar. The team depended on transfers of key names from their NASL team, six players making the move. While trades to get Ethan Finley and Kevin Molino from Columbus and Orlando stabilized the team, the defense was the worst in the league, giving up a season-record 70 goals. However, forward Christian Ramirez had a breakout MLS debut season, collecting 14 goals and helping the team avoid the cellar.

While the defense has done much better out of the gate in 2018, the team still lingers near the bottom of the Western Conference (9th out of 12). Minnesota’s inability to avoid the injury bug has plagued them. Goalkeeper injuries forced Minnesota to return to Bobby Shuttleworth, who played the entire season in goal last year. Both Molino and Finlay have also gone down with torn ACLs to miss the rest of the season, leaving the team threadbare in the middle. While the team can depend on veterans Miguel Ibarra and Ibson in the middle and Darwin Quintero up top with Ramirez, it will be interesting to see how the Minnesota lineup looks three days after a 4-1 road loss to Sporting Kansas City.

Here’s a few notes about the team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

History from the North

  • While Minnesota’s lifespan as an MLS squad has been short, the team itself has been functioning since 2010, back when it was NSC Minnesota (the “NSC” standing for “National Sports Center”, the team’s home facility). The team captured the NASL Championship in its second year (hence the double-meaning for the star on its logo) before they changed their name to the “Minnesota Stars” and then “Minnesota United FC”.
  • Minnesota United FC rebranded their nickname as the “Loons” in 2013 to match the state bird. The badge is comprised of a loon with 11 feathers on its wing—one for each player on the pitch—taking flight over a background composed of two colors, one for Minneapolis and one for St. Paul.
  • Before Minnesota United, there were two Division-I teams from Minnesota—the Minnesota Kicks (1976-1981) and Minnesota Strikers (1984). In the heyday of the NASL in the 1970s, the Kicks were quite the powerhouse, winning four straight divisional titles and drawing over 30,000 per game, second only to the New York Cosmos. Three years after the Kicks disbanded, Ft. Lauderdale moved their team to Minnesota, only to become an indoor soccer club the next year.
  • After the demise of the Strikers, the Minnesota Thunder stepped in to fill the void. The team debuted in the 1994 USISL season and went undefeated until they lost in the final. The Thunder would play 16 years in Division II soccer, winning the USL A-League Championship in 1999. They advanced as far as the U.S. Open Cup Semifinals in 2005, beating Real Salt Lake, the Colorado Rapids, and the Kansas City Wizards along the way.

Corben Bone winds up to shoot against Matt Lampson in last year’s USOC match against the Chicago Fire. Lampson now wears Minnesota United colors. Image: JES Photography

Open Cup Connections

  • While the Thunder performed well in the Open Cup, Minnesota United FC has not. The Loons had their best run in 2012, upsetting Real Salt Lake 3-1 on the road in the third round before losing to San Jose in the fourth round. Their kryptonite has been MLS itself—Minnesota has lost to Sporting Kansas City three of the last four seasons, including a 4-0 loss on the road last year.
  • Only one member of the Loons has faced FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup, but his name probably sounds familiar. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson started for the Chicago Fire in last year’s thriller at Nippert, making seven saves in net, only to be out-dueled by Mitch Hildebrandt. Lampson’s availability is up in the air, as he recovers from a knee injury.
  • Coach Adrian Heath is hoping to bank on past successes in the Open Cup. He led Orlando City SC to the quarterfinals in 2013 and 2015, only to lose to Chicago both years.

Crossing the Mississippi

  • Wednesday will be the first time Cincinnati has played an MLS team from the Western Conference. However, it will not be the first competitive match FCC has played against any Western Conference team, as St. Louis FC was a member of the USL West back in 2016.
  • DID YOU KNOW? Wednesday will be the first time that a Cincinnati soccer club has played a Minnesota soccer club since 2003. From 1998 to 2003, the Minnesota Thunder and Cincinnati Riverhawks both played in the USL A-League. However, the contests were considerably one-sided. In 19 matchups between the two teams, the Riverhawks won against the Thunder only once. That one victory came in August of 1998 and was followed by 16 consecutive defeats to the Thunder.

Can FC Cincinnati avenge the ghosts of the Riverhawks’ past and pull off another upset against an MLS squad? Follow ussoccer.com for the live stream on Wednesday and read Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of Wednesday’s match and future progress in the U.S. Open Cup.

Know Your Enemy (Again): Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

After dispatching Detroit City, FC Cincinnati faces a familiar USL foe in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup.

Image: Joe Craven

Matchup: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (USL) vs. FC Cincinnati (USL)
2018 U.S. Open Cup, 3rd Round
When: May 23rd (Wednesday), 7 PM
Where: Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA

Last year, the Orange & Blue used the luck of the draw and the comforts of Nippert Stadium to roll to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. This year, they will have to make their own luck.

One week removed from eliminating Detroit City FC, FC Cincinnati travels to Highmark Stadium to face Pittsburgh in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup. FCC needed extra time to fend off Le Rouge, beating Detroit 4-1 at Gettler Stadium. After giving up the first goal, FCC rode an Emery Welshman hat-trick and a Corben Bone goal to advance after 120 minutes.

The Riverhounds had to face their own opponent on the road, defeating the NPSL’s Erie Commodores, 2-1. Pittsburgh got all their goals in the first half—an early goal by Thomas Vancaeyezeele in the 5th minute and a penalty kick by Kevin Kerr in the 31st. Erie snatched back a goal right before halftime, but Pittsburgh controlled the pace for the rest of the game to move on.

While the first USL matchup between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh ended in a 2-2 draw earlier this year, that was at Nippert. Pittsburgh’s been practically untouchable at home. Although they haven’t passed FCC in the standings, the Riverhounds have yet to lose in the regular season. Pittsburgh is also one of two USL teams—Nashville being the other—who is yet to give up a goal at home. (Then again, only one of those opponents is currently in a playoff position.)

But how has Bob Lilley and his band performed in the U.S. Open Cup?

Fast Facts

  • While Pittsburgh has played in many more Open Cups (16) than Cincinnati (3), the furthest they have advanced was in 2001, when they defeated the Colorado Rapids before falling to the Chicago Fire in the quarterfinals. However, the team has never won more than two games in the U.S. Open Cup.
  • On the other hand, Coach Lilley has historically managed well in this tournament. In his six years as a head coach for Rochester, his team won two or more games during each trip in the Open Cup. He guided the Rhinos to the fifth round in 2014, defeating D.C. United before losing to the New England Revolution.
  • Since 2011, there have been only 15 matches that put two USL teams against each other. However, the growth of the league means that more USL teams will face off. Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati is one of five USL vs. USL matchups in the third round.
  • Of those previous 15 matchups, the team with the higher point total has won 11 times and lost twice. The teams were tied in points in the other two. However, historically, there has not been a noticeable home-pitch advantage. Of these 15 matchups, the home team has won only 8 times.
  • If the game goes to penalty kicks, FCC should feel confident if Evan Newton is in net. Newton has been the goalkeeper in three penalty-kick rounds in the USL playoffs and has won two of them (2015 vs. Colorado Springs, 2017 vs. Real Monarchs).

Can FC Cincinnati do what five other teams haven’t done this year and win at Highmark? Which team will get the shot at an MLS squad in the fourth round? Be sure to tune in to ussoccer.com for the live stream on Wednesday and follow Orange & Blue Press for coverage of the match.

Know Your Enemy: Detroit City FC

FC Cincinnati starts its 2018 U.S. Open Cup run against one of the most counter-culture soccer teams in the country, Detroit City FC.

imageRBMatchup: FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. Detroit City FC (NPSL)
2018 U.S. Open Cup, 2nd Round
When: May 16th (Wednesday), 7:30 PM
Where: Gettler Stadium, University of Cincinnati

Over the short span of two years, FC Cincinnati has matured quickly in the U.S. Open Cup. With the team’s unfathomable trek into the 2017 tournament behind them, it tends to get forgotten that they almost got bounced by AFC Cleveland in the second round. The defending NPSL champions held FCC’s feet to the fire and lasted well into extra time before Djiby’s header in the 115th minute sealed the 1-0 win.

While 2016 was an initiation to the U.S. Open Cup, 2017 was an exploration within it. It’s now 2018, and FC Cincinnati’s hunt for gold also now makes them the hunted. The team going after them just so happens to be one of the most colorful, anti-establishment teams out there, Detroit City FC.

FC Cincinnati’s quest to enter MLS has clashed with the Motor City’s own expansion committee. However, if you were to ask a member of the Northern Guard Supporters—DCFC’s primary supporters group—about the possibility of joining MLS, they would likely turn the offer down. The general sentiment is that the team doesn’t want to be affiliated with any attempt to join.

How Detroit City got here

DCFC’s quest to this point went through a familiar route—the Michigan Bucks. Hosting the Bucks at their home grounds, Detroit City got on the board first in the 57th minute. A stray header pinged off the crossbar, only for forward Shawn Lawson to smash the rebound in from up close. However, the Bucks equalized off an Alfonso Pineirho penalty kick in the 84th minute.

Despite a Greg Janicki red card in the 95th minute, Detroit City got through extra time with only 10 men. Although they were down early in sudden death, goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher made a key save late in the session, and forward Roddy Green scored the decider to win 6-5 in penalty kicks. DCFC now makes their way to the U.S. Open Cup second round for the second time ever.

Image: Boys in Rouge, Robert Sherman

What we should know about DCFC

While DCFC is more known for their renegade approach to soccer, there is still a lot to learn. Detroit City FC, who are ya?!

  • Detroit City FC started in 2010 without any affiliation or solid ties to previous teams from Detroit. It took a spark from one future owner forming a recreational league, the Detroit City Futbol League (DCFL). From the positive response and growth within the league, the idea for a team blossomed. Five of the players from two rival teams put DCFC together as an amateur team in the NPSL in 2012, only for the attendance in the first year to balloon to over almost 1,300 per game.
  • DCFC is helmed by Ben “Caesar” Pirrman. The head coach got the nickname when he accidentally said “Caesar” instead of “season” during an interview. In Pirrman’s five years, DCFC has won a division title, made the NPSL playoffs three times, and qualified for the U.S. Open Cup four times.
  • In 2017, DCFC went 9-2-3 during the regular season, reaching the National Semifinals before losing to Midland-Odessa in penalty kicks. The record crowd of 7,533 was no surprise. Detroit City led the NPSL in attendance last year at almost 6,000 per game at Keyworth Stadium.
  • Detroit City has faced a USL team once before in U.S. Open Cup play, losing to Louisville City FC 3-1 in penalty kicks in 2016. In fact, of the five games Detroit City has played in the U.S. Open Cup, four finished in penalty kicks (two wins, two losses).
  • DCFC has managed to maintain quite a bit of their roster over the offseason. Starting midfielder Cyrus Saydee is the last player left from their debut 2012 season, and DCFC’s goal scorer from last week, Shawn Lawson, led the team last year with nine goals. The team has also returned captain David Edwardson, vice-captain Seb Harris, and defenders Stephen Carroll and Omar Sinclair. They recently signed former USMNT and Colorado Rapids player Joshua Gatt as a winger. Overall, DCFC has 12 players who were on the team last year, a decent turnover for the squad.
  • The last time Detroit City FC played in Cincinnati was in 2015, back when the Cincinnati Saints played in the NPSL. On June 20th, the final match of their “rivalry” started with an early Saints goal and a second-half red card to Detroit City, only for Le Rouge to push three late goals in for a 3-1 win. The celebration by the Northern Guard set off so many smoke bombs that the fire department had to pay a visit.
  • While the Northern Guard has shown themselves to have a rough exterior both in person and online, they and the team itself have done much for the community in Detroit. Since 2013, the team has focused on a local charity each year and have created special kits for each organization to be worn at a home game. The Northern Guard has also set up “Let’s Make Roots”, a ticket distribution initiative for kids and families who are not able to afford to come to matches. (This is similar to the “Sports Games for Kids” initiative in Cincinnati.)

The difference in vision and philosophy between FCC and Detroit City should be the main fuel for this opening game. If FC Cincinnati’s drive in the past was to show MLS teams like Columbus and Chicago that they could compete, that same drive will be coming from Le Rouge and the Northern Guard in a match that has the potential to become an instant classic.

(Our thanks to Andrew Goode from Boys in Rouge for providing feedback and information for this article.)

Know Your Enemy: AFC Cleveland

The 104th U.S. Open Cup is underway with FC Cincinnti ready to host AFC Cleveland in the second round. But who exactly are the reigning NPSL champions??

Photo Credit: Brent Durken/6th City Photography

Matchup: FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. AFC Cleveland (NPSL)
2017 U.S. Open Cup, 2nd Round
When: May 17th (Wednesday), 7PM
Where: Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati

As the European leagues march towards their final games, the soccer seasons within the United States pyramid of leagues have started in full force. While the seasons for Division IV teams and lower have started in earnest, there is another prize that potential giant-killers dream about—the prestige of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the oldest knock-out soccer tournament in the United States.

With the first round of the 104th U.S. Open Cup already completed last week, the semi-professional and amateur leagues now turn their attention to the Division II squads from the USL and NASL. With FC Cincinnati prepared to enter the fray, the boys in Orange & Blue are faced with an opponent that feels both familiar and unknown—in-state rivals from the Northeast who will be traveling down I-71 to encounter FC Cincy in the second round.

No, this isn’t the “Crew” from Central Ohio, but the “Royals” from the shores of Lake Erie—AFC Cleveland, your 2016 national NPSL champs, are coming to Nippert.

AFC Cleveland comes into this second-round US Open Cup match with momentum behind them, having recently marched into Iowa and taken down the Des Moines Menace of the PDL, 3-1. While the first half was a quiet 45 minutes with no scoring, the Royals picked up the pace with the wind at their back in the second half, scoring on a penalty kick in the 78th minute to take an early lead.

While Des Moines managed to pick up an equalizer in the 85th minute, AFC Cleveland pulled away with a pair of late goals, including a high-corner goal off the far post in the 90th minute from Chris Cvecko for the game-winner. Considering that the Menace have had their own history of winning (four straight years of USOC opening-round wins), the Royals’ win at Valley Stadium is no small feat.

But that still leaves a question that echoes from the Bailey unanswered—AFC Cleveland, who are ya?

  • AFC Cleveland started in 2012 from the ashes of the USL’s Cleveland City Stars (2007-09) and the PDL’s Cleveland Internationals (2004-10). Since 2012, the team has steadily crept into prominence, going from a 4-7-1 record in 2012 to an 8-2-0 record in 2016.
  • The Royals blazed through the competition in 2016, giving up only 9 goals during the regular season and defeating the Sonoma County Sol 4-2 in the 2016 NPSL Championship. Veteran Vinny Bell, who has been with the team since its inception, scored twice to earn Man-of-the-Match honors.
  • While they do not play a year-long slate of games, AFC Cleveland has turned their home turf into a fortress—the Royals won all of their home games last season and have not lost at Stan Skoczen Stadium since 2014 (over 1,000 days). The Royals managed to keep that streak intact on Saturday’s home opener, despite allowing Dayton Dynamo to knot the final score at 3-3.
  • In their first year in the US Open Cup, AFC Cleveland made it to the second round in 2016, losing to St. Louis FC, 2-0.
  • The Royals, much like FC Cincinnati, are coming into the 2017 season with a new coach, Mike Sesar. Sesar has been active at many levels as both a player and a coach in the Cleveland area and has been coaching locally since 2005. AFC Cleveland brings back two of their veterans, striker Vinny Bell and defenseman Tom Beck, for a sixth year.  They have also beefed up their offense with former Carolina Railhawk forward Ben Truax and forward Reymar Klechko, who scored the late insurance goal vs. Des Moines.
  • The Royals’ main supporters’ group is the 6th City Syndicate, a group with a healthy obsession with Zod, the Cookie Monster, and a concept that can only be summarized as…“WAMPUS”. While the group and its supporters have been vague about what “WAMPUS” actually means, they will tell you that “…it’s more of a philosophy, a lifestyle…”, so it may be best to share a friendly beverage with a supporter to understand the WAMPUS way of life.
  • We’ve been told that the “AFC” in “AFC Cleveland” doesn’t stand for “Athletic Football Club” or “American Football Conference” (for you Bengals fans out there). It actually means “A Fans’ Club”, something the club describes as “a nod to the club’s desire to create an organization for soccer fans by soccer fans”.

Now that you know a little more about the team itself, be sure to watch FC Cincinnati start a new in-state rivalry with the Royals, as it hosts AFC Cleveland in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup.

While this isn’t the familiar scrum of a “Dirty River Derby” with Louisville City FC or a dream scenario of a “Hell Is Real” Cup against Columbus Crew SC, AFC Cleveland’s recent success and sound soccer play on the pitch could give the local squad a run for their money and perhaps a stake as the champions of Interstate 71.