And They’re Off: 6 Possible U.S. Open Cup Dark Horses

The U.S. Open Cup begins again. What lower-tier teams are expected to go far this year?

Source: Ryan Meyer Photography

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.

USL League Two – Des Moines Menace

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.

USL League One – Richmond Kickers?

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?

NPSL – Miami FC

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…

USL Championship – Tampa Bay Rowdies

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.

USL Championship – Las Vegas Lights FC

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.

FC Cincinnati 2 – 3 New York Red Bulls: Dream Cup Run Falls Just Short of Final

FC Cincinnati’s shot at a trip to the US Open Cup final fell short in extra time against the NY Red Bulls in front of a sold-out Nippert Stadium.

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Photo Courtesy Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati had the New York Red Bulls on the ropes in Tuesday’s US Open Cup Semifinal. They led the heavily-favored MLS side by two goals with only 15 minutes remaining in the match, but couldn’t deliver the knockout blow.

Corben Bone opened the scoring for the Orange and Blue in the 31st minute against the run of play. Andrew Wiedeman delivered a measured cross from the left into New York’s box. The cross was chested into Bone’s path by Danni König, and the midfielder’s close-range first-time strike gave Red Bulls keeper Ryan Meara no chance to save. A sold out Nippert Stadium erupted after the opening goal.

FC Cincinnati doubled their lead after the break, despite continued attempts by the Red Bulls to equalize. Hometown hero Austin Berry powered home a towering header from a corner kick to give the Alan Koch’s side a convincing 2-0 lead in the 62nd minute.

The Red Bulls stormed back into the match though with late goals by substitute Gonzalo Verón and Bradley Wright-Phillips. That pair of goals was separated by less than three minutes in the 75th and 78th minutes, and New York pressed for a winner at the end of regulation.

Extra time was required to break the 2-2 stalemate, and New York rode their late game momentum to victory. Bradley Wright-Phillips delivered a second inch-perfect headed goal to give New York the lead. FC Cincinnati nearly responded immediately. Marco Dominguez’s close range shot at an empty New York goal was blocked off the line by the excellent Tyler Adams.

The Orange and Blue had given all they could and fatigue was a factor in extra time. Their valiant effort wasn’t quite enough to reach the final, and their cup run ended with a 3-2 extra time defeat.

What a Cup Run It Was

Far and away the highlight of the 2017 season so far, the US Open Cup has produced unforgettable moments for this club and the city of Cincinnati. No team can ever be happy about losing a two goal lead so late in the match, but its hard to be too upset after the number of astonishing cup performances this team has assembled.

Alan Koch had the following to say about the team and the tournament.

“Anytime you’re up 2-0 in a game and you don’t win, you’re going to be disappointed, but putting that aside, I have nothing but pride, in a group of players that put everything out there on the pitch tonight for our team, our club, and our city. (This cup run) has been truly magical.”

Scintillating New York Comeback

FC Cincinnati’s defense delivered another bend-but-don’t-break performance for 70+ minutes of this match. That allowed the Orange and Blue to build a lead by capitalizing on counter-attacking opportunities. The following line from Joe Goldstein in our preview proved to be prophetic however.

“(New York Red Bulls’) real strength is that they can recover from mistakes and not let teams that score first waltz away with the match. “

New York head coach Jesse Marsch made two effective substitutions in Gonzalo Verón and Derrick Etienne Jr. that combined for the first goal. Bradley-Wright Phillips then did the rest, highlighting his top-class finishing abilities. Marsch said the following in the post match press conference.

“We didn’t underestimate them. We knew we were in for a tough match. We knew they were well coached and well organized. It was just about our ability to stay after the game and feel like we could overwhelm them over time. We took the hard route, that’s for sure. But I think our team showed their character in a big way.”

Focus Returns to the League

FC Cincinnati now must turn their attention and quickly refocus on the USL league campaign. The team’s form in the league has been topsy-turvy, and with only nine matches remaining, they’ll need to produce more consistent results to ensure a playoff spot and a decent seed.

They currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, with the top eight advancing to the post season. Alan Koch’s side has two critical games in the next week against squads right behind them in the standings, New York Red Bulls II (the Baby Bulls) and Ottawa Fury.

Most of the remaining games are against teams below them in the standings, making for an easier strength of schedule. Success won’t come without its challenges though. Six of those nine games are on the road, and many of those teams will be looking to make-up ground on FC Cincinnati, and stamp their own ticket to the USL playoffs.

Match Photos via Joe Craven

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Before closing the book on an exceptional 2017 US Open Cup campaign, I just wanted to highlight the sportsmanship from the players, fans, and coaching staff of the New York Red Bulls. Make no mistake, this was a hotly contested match on the field. But those heated moments made way for scenes of sportsmanship, with the Red Bulls making rounds to applaud the FC Cincinnati fans and the Bailey after the match.

After some ugly on-field sights, off-field drama, and refereeing controversies this season, it was fantastic to see this match and this tournament end with a touch of class.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati’s 2017 season.

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US Open Cup – Know Your Enemy: New York Red Bulls

A trip to the US Open Cup final is on the line for FC Cincinnati. Guest Joe Goldstein of Seeing Red joins us to discuss Tuesday’s match against the Red Bulls.

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Photo courtesy JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is nearing its conclusion, and FC Cincinnati is one of just three teams remaining in the competition. They’ll meet the New York Red Bulls on Tuesday August 15th for a dramatic semifinal clash at a sold-out Nippert Stadium. Sporting KC has already advanced to the final by topping the San Jose Earthquakes last Wednesday in the other half of the bracket. That match went to penalty kicks to decide a winner.

The Orange and Blue come into this semifinal licking wounds after suffering their worst defeat in club history on Saturday. Rival Louisville City FC thrashed them 5-0 at Slugger Field in a match that FC Cincinnati played with ten men for 50+ minutes.

Alan Koch’s side reached the final four of the Open Cup based on a 1-0 victory over the NASL’s Miami FC on the road on August 2nd. Djiby scored the lone goal for an underdog FC Cincinnati side in the 68th minute to secure the victory.

The Orange and Blue will be without forwards Djiby Fall and Kyle Greig for Tuesday’s match. Djiby is suspended due to yellow card accumulation and Kyle Greig is not eligible to play for FC Cincinnati in the US Open Cup.

The Red Bulls head to the semifinals in sizzling form, having won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions. They advanced to the semifinals of the Open Cup by beating a ten man New England Revolution 1-0 at Harvard’s Jordan Field on July 13th.

Joe Goldstein Q&A

Orange and Blue Press caught up with Joe Goldstein for an expert opinion on FC Cincinnati’s semifinal opponent. Joe is a writer for SBI Soccer and co-hosts the Seeing Red and Raising Bulls podcasts. He has been writing about the Red Bulls since 2009 and is a regular in press row at Red Bull Arena.

MW: The Red Bulls have been in great form of late, despite their recent derby loss. What’s behind their recent good form?

JG: The biggest factor has been a major shift in their formation from 4-2-3-1 to 3-6-1. The change has allowed the central midfield to stay compact and press without sacrificing space on the wings. The formation change has also allowed Sacha Kljestan, Felipe, Sean Davis, and Tyler Adams to play at the same time which has elevated the group.

MW:  Aside from Bradley Wright-Phillips, which Red Bulls player could ruin FC Cincinnati’s semifinal?

JG: Daniel Royer would have been a prime suspect, unfortunately, his injury will keep him from appearing. Alex Muyl has been very active in the attack of late. Often overshadowed by Bradley and Royer’s contributions, Muyl is quietly having a solid sophomore campaign. Despite just contributing 3 goals and 2 assists this season, it is important to note that Muyl had not scored in 11 matches before the change in formation. Since, he has a goal and 2 assists.

MW: Bradley Wright-Phillips has been in great goalscoring form. Is there any way to shut him down?

JG: Bradley has become more clinical this year then ever before. He can be marked out of a game for 90 minutes, and still bury the only chance he is given. He is most dangerous making runs into the box on crosses, but he has been refining his overall play, especially his hold up play. With the sort of “hydra” approach of the Red Bulls offense, keying in on BWP allows other offensive players to contribute.

MW: If the Red Bulls have a weakness that FC Cincinnati could exploit, what is it?

JG: Teams that have done best against the Red Bulls pile numbers behind the ball and look to counter. Cincy have been doing that to great effect in their Cinderella run in the U.S. Open Cup. My fear for them though, without Djiby Fall, is Konig enough to shoulder that burden? I’m not so sure. The Red Bulls do play a high line though, so if Cincy can be clinical and take one chance, it puts them in a good position.

MW: Anything else we should know about the Red Bulls coming into the match?

JG: The secret strength of the Red Bulls this season is the different looks they are offering in attack. They attack in waves and from every available avenue, shooting from distance, crossing the ball, set pieces, breaking on the counter, etc. But their real strength is that they can recover from mistakes and have not let teams that score first waltz away with the match. If Cincy wants to win this one, they may need to attack more freely, because the Red Bulls haven’t been held off the scoreboard, or scored less than a goal in almost 2 months.

A big thanks to Joe for making time to speak with Orange and Blue Press. Also, tune into the Raising Bulls podcast this week where Michael Walker of Orange & Blue Press will recap the Open Cup semifinal with the guys in New York. The show will also preview Saturday’s USL match against the Baby Bulls at MSU Soccer Park.

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SOLD OUT: FC Cincinnati US Open Cup Semifinal Tickets Snatched Up

Tickets to FC Cincinnati’s US Open Cup semifinal match against the NY Red Bulls sold out just hours after being released to the general public.

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Photo courtesy JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

Tickets to FC Cincinnati’s US Open Cup semifinal match against the New York Red Bulls sold out just hours after being released to the general public at 1pm on Tuesday. The ticketing platform, supplied by vendor Glitnir, immediately had problems keeping up with the high demand and corresponding web traffic. The problems were significant enough that ticket sales had to be suspended for most of the afternoon. The ticketing platform was re-opened just after 8pm on Tuesday, and the match sold out overnight.

Also see: Huge Semifinal Ticket Demand: Down Goes Glitnir

FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding had the following to say about the sell out:

“To sell out on the first day of our public sale is tremendous and we are confirming that we do not have any seats available. Our sales team sold 16,000 tickets in roughly seven hours and we are thrilled that our fans are excited about our match-up against New York Red Bulls. The atmosphere at Nippert Stadium is going to be spectacular.

I want to thank our fans for their understanding and patience when our system went down. Despite all the preparatory measures we took with Glitnir, the demand was simply too much for the system. For those who are still trying to purchase a ticket for the match, I encourage you to sign on with us as a season ticket holder to receive priority in the future.”

The semifinal match will be played on Tuesday August 15th at 8pm at Nippert stadium. FC Cincinnati advanced to the semifinals after beating Miami FC 1-0 on August 2nd in a rescheduled quarterfinal match. Djiby Fall scored the deciding goal in that contest, but will be suspended for the semifinal due to yellow card accumulation. The semifinal winner will face the victor of tonight’s match between Sporting KC and the San Jose Earthquakes. If FC Cincinnati and San Jose both advance, the US Open Cup final will be played at Nippert Stadium.

“We sold 16,000 tickets in 7 hours yesterday. I think that speaks to this wonderful soccer movement that we have going on in our city.” –Jeff Berding

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and 2017 season.

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CVG Homecoming: Where FCC Goes, Fans Follow

The FC Cincinnati squad landed at CVG, in northern Kentucky today, to a greeting of over a hundred raucous supporters in baggage claim.

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All photos courtesy JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

Draped in flags, wrapped in scarves, and wearing all manner of orange and blue, the supporters of FC Cincinnati followed up with the US Open Cup semi-finalists at CVG airport. They gathered and greeted the Queen City boys as they arrived back from their 1-0 victory over Miami FC. As FCC’s official Twitter page put it, “Not that we should be surprised, but an awesome crowd has gathered at CVG.”

Over a hundred Cincinnati supporters turned up at baggage claim to welcome the rising USL stars back home. For an hour, the crowd stood by, chanting Bailey favorite cheers, becoming so raucous at one point that security at the airport had to step in and quiet everyone until the team arrived.

But as the men made their way in, the crowd broke into chants again, giving the quarter-final victors more reason to smile; they took video of the fans’ welcome as fans took video of their entrance, a telling display of the bond between team and supporters here in Cincinnati. The significance of the gathering was not lost on Coach Alan Koch, saying on Twitter, “Just another moment of why we love our fans so much. You are the reason.”

FC Cincinnati’s next US Open Cup test will be home, at Nippert, on Tuesday, August 15th, against the fourth ranked team in MLS’ Eastern Conference, New York Red Bulls. A win and a Sporting Kansas City loss mean a Nippert US Open Cup final. But for now, the players are settling back into their USL schedule, with a match at home this Saturday against Orlando City B; their fans will be right there with them.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and 2017 season.

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FC Cincinnati 1 – 0 Miami FC: Four Magical Numbers That Mattered

Four numbers that mattered from FC Cincinnati’s thrilling 1-0 win over Miami FC in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.

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Photo Courtesy Miami FC

 

It was only appropriate that FC Cincinnati’s magic in the 107th U.S. Open Cup continued with a win in the Magic City.

Three weeks after they were scheduled to tangle with Miami FC in the USOC quarterfinals, FC Cincinnati returned to Miami to resume their match, this time under rain-free conditions. The Cinderella run for FCC has yet to strike midnight, as the squad managed to tame another offensive juggernaut with stingy defense and a timely goal from Djiby for a 1-0 win.

With their numbers restored from rest and reinforcements, FCC started the first half with a starter-heavy starting XI—both Djiby and Danni König were set at the front of the familiar 3-5-2 formation with Sem de Wit and Kevin Schindler getting their first starts of the year. Miami FC countered with a solid front three of Enzo Rennella, Kwadwo Poku, and Stefano Pinho, a trio who had combined for seven of the 11 Miami FC goals in their Cup run.

The first 45’ was dominated by neither side—while Miami had the slight edge in possession and control, Cincinnati was getting more opportunities at the net. Double-coverage on Djiby often left König room to work, while the midfield was allowed some space to pressure the offensive third. Both teams seemed unable to take advantage of lapses in judgment, but in general the flow of the game was favoring FCC and their vocal traveling support.

The second half certainly indicated that coach Alessandro Nesta had made the right call to conserve energy in the first half. Miami came out with more pressure in their attack, forcing the FC Cincinnati defense to foul and concede corner kicks to keep the pace under control. A streaking Pinho in the 59th minute could have easily produced the first goal of the game, but Mitch Hildebrandt came off his line to smother the opportunity and keep his historic goalless run intact.

The lead finally went FCC’s way in the 68th minute. Justin Hoyte managed to isolate defender Hunter Freeman on the left side of the box, beating him with a right-footed dribble. Hoyte then skirted the back line with a left-footed cross that found Djiby at the near goalpost, who tapped the pass through goalkeeper Daniel Vega’s legs for the 1-0 advantage.

For the rest of the game, the Cincinnati defensive line withstood the remaining attacks by plugging passing lanes and clearing opportunities. Miami’s equalizer appeared to be in reach in the 89th when Poku danced and dribbled around defenders, only for his shot to glance off Hildebrandt’s leg and just miss Rennella’s forehead. The midfield managed to handle the ball for most of stoppage time, and the final whistle produced overjoyed chaos on the Cincinnati sideline and in bars all over Cincinnati.

The victory gives FC Cincinnati another wild matchup against an MLS side for the opportunity to possibly host the U.S. Open Cup final. A few days before their match with the New York Red Bulls’ “2” squad, our Boys in Orange & Blue will host their parent team on Tuesday, August 15th at Nippert Stadium. A win versus the Papa Bulls will produce the first non-MLS U.S. Open Cup finalist since Charleston Battery in 2008.

Four Numbers That Mattered

21 – The number of days since the date of the originally-scheduled match between FC Cincinnati and Miami FC. The extra three weeks of rest turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the spent FC Cincinnati side—Justin Hoyte, Austin Berry, and Harrison Delbridge were all left off the original lineup on July 12th, but all three were in the Starting XI when the actual game was played, and all three made a big difference. Mother Nature must be a Queen City fan!

4 – The number of goals Djiby has scored in this year’s U.S. Open Cup. While this number is a bit deceptive (as Cincinnati has scored only four goals in five games), the Senegalese striker has been opportunistic—Djiby is the first player in the Modern Era to score four game-winning goals in the same U.S. Open Cup tournament.

+5 – The advantage in interceptions held by FC Cincinnati (13) over Miami FC (8). While Miami enjoyed a 57/43 advantage in possession, FCC once again employed a sturdy 3-5-2 defensive pattern that allowed the backline of Berry, de Wit, and Delbridge to clog the middle and take away challenges. Pinho (4 goals) and Poku (2) had been part of a solid Miami offense that enjoyed a +22 goal differential over 16 games to start the NASL season, but were primarily neutralized until their chances late in the game.

469 – The number of consecutive shutout minutes Mitch Hildebrandt has gone in US Open Cup competitions. Starting from the 11th minute of the loss to Tampa Bay in 2016, Hildebrandt has not let in a single goal, leaving him 4 minutes shy of the modern-day record (Jon Conway had 473 consecutive minutes for San Jose in 2000 and 2001). In fact, string this with Dallas Jaye’s 120 minutes of clean-sheet play vs. AFC Cleveland, and FC Cincy hasn’t allowed a goal in 589 minutes of Open Cup play, also a Modern-Era record.

Bonus Number!

2008 – While a USL team has not made the USOC semifinals since 2011, a USL squad has not hosted a semifinal draw since 2008, back when Charleston hosted and beat the then-USL Seattle Sounders. If Cincinnati can defeat the Red Bulls, it will be the first time that an MLS squad lost to a non-MLS squad in the semifinals since the Rochester Raging Rhinos beat the Columbus Crew in 1999.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.

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Blog: Subplots, Chicago Fire US Open Cup Victory

Subplots from FC Cincinnati’s US Open cup victory including scary selection, Hoyte’s central role, and Wiedeman’s glorious disallowed goal.

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Photo courtesy of JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

There are so many storylines from Wednesday night’s triumph at Nippert. I jotted down a few thoughts on the smaller narratives that people aren’t talking about enough in my opinion. The majority of the chatter is about Mitch’s master performance, the games implications on the MLS bid, what it meant to Austin Berry and Corben Bone, and even what it means for American soccer. All valid topics, but some of the less obvious talking points are more interesting to me. Screw clicks, right?

Ballsy Lineup

Alan Koch set the team up in a 3-4-3 formation that looked like a 5-4-1 when Chicago had the ball. Critically, HE MADE SIX CHANGES from the strong eleven that started last Saturday in USL action. If you didn’t gulp when that lineup was announced, to match-up against a Schweinsteiger-led Chicago Fire, you’re one of those overly-positive people I’ll never understand.

Everyone expected some rotation. Everyone expected König to play a role. Djiby of course was hurt. But six changes and no Jimmy Mac, no Kenney Walker, no Corben Bone, no Wiedeman? Koch started Stevenson and Dominguez, both players I like, but both young players that haven’t figured much in the starting eleven this season.

The beauty is that it worked, somehow. He put a lot of trust in the squad and it paid off. They certainly needed the spark and possession-play from McLaughlin, Bone, and Wiedeman as substitutes. They needed a game-of-your-life performance from Mitch Hildebrandt to pull off the victory, but wow. It could have backfired. In light of the result, you have to tip your hat to the coaching staff. I’m still not sure whether it was genius or crazy.

Hoyte Steps into the Back Three

Justin Hoyte started in the center of the back three, and combined with Berry, Delbridge, and defense-minded wingbacks to keep the Fire at bay for 120 minutes. Surely Hoyte is a quality defender, and we know he has the ability to play center back. But we’ve only seen him at fullback or wingback this season, and Nico’s been a rock there recently. Was now the time to experiment? In arguably the biggest match in club history to date? Again, it worked. Hoyte was stingy in defense. Berry was everywhere, and the best at the back in my opinion. Bahner cleared a sure goal off the line. Delbridge was a monster in the air as always. In truth, the entire defense had a great performance.

Wieda One Bad Call Away from All the Headlines

Every article you’ve read about this match has one man on the cover photo, Mitch Hildebrandt. And rightly so. His performance during the game, and in the shootout was at a different level.  I’m not trying to minimize that at all. One should also point out that Mitch was quick to heap praise on his teammates and give them all the credit in post match interviews.

However, Andrew Wiedeman’s extra time goal was SO onside. It should have been the game winner and if that had happened, think about how different the dialogue and the headlines might be. Who would be on the cover photos? Also think about the outrage that would have ensued about that incorrect offside call if Chicago had won the shootout. We talk a lot about statistical trends, aggregate numbers, and the like to analyze matches. But individual moments and decisions, by players and officials, usually define matches. It’s part of why this game is so unpredictable, and why we love and hate this sport all at the same time.

Danni and Kadeem’s Effort

Thursday was truly a team performance. Danni König and Kadeem Dacres don’t get many mentions in the write-ups, but I thought they absolutely ran their socks off, especially in the earlier portions of the match. The Fire were pressing for the opening goal, and these two were a big part of a defend-from-the-front approach, that made life difficult enough to keep the Fire off the score sheet. Effort isn’t everything, but these guys really laid it out there on Wednesday night. Staying in the game despite Chicago’s early onslaught was a key part of this US Open Cup success.

No Djiby, No Kenney, No Problem

If I had to write down the starting eleven for any FC Cincinnati match, Djiby Fall and Kenney Walker would likely be the first two names I would write down. The fact that we beat an almost full strength, in-form Chicago Fire team without those two players is incredible. The depth of this roster, which has been touted since preseason, paid off on Wednesday. We’ll continue to need that depth as the Orange and Blue will play six matches in the first 15 days of July. That run starts tomorrow against Orlando City B. Just one more day left to savor that historic US Open Cup win.

So many storylines, which is one of many reasons why this match will live on in FC Cincinnati legend for some time.

Any underreported storylines that I missed? Let me know in the comments section or on social media.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati.

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Match Photos: FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs)

Fourty-five images of FC Cincinnati’s victory over Chicago Fire at Nippert Stadium in the US Open Cup, courtesy of Joe Schmuck.

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Here are 45 images of FC Cincinnati’s US Open Cup victory over the Chicago Fire courtesy of Joe Schmuck. When browsing the gallery below for any given image, a high resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.”

Also see the post-match article: FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs): Four Numbers That Mattered

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.

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FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs): Four Numbers That Mattered

Four numbers that mattered and the match changing moment from FC Cincinnati’s round of 16 US Open Cup triumph over the Chicago Fire.

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Photo Courtesy JES Photography / Joe Schmuck
NO. NO. NO.

In what could be considered arguably the biggest “cupset” of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, FC Cincinnati continued their miracle run with a win over the Chicago Fire of MLS, winning 3-1 in penalties after 120 minutes of 0-0 action. Most of the honors will go to Cincy goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, as all 26 shots fired by the Fire, 10 of which were on goal, were parried or stopped by the 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year. His efforts were seen by a national audience, thanks to ESPN’s coverage of the 5th-round game.

The entire first half of the game was a wait-and-see approach by Chicago, controlling the ball and forcing Cincinnati onto their heels. With most of the action taking place in their defensive third, FC Cincinnati’s back line was forced to deflect shots out for corner kicks. The highlight clearance came at the 16th minute when a juicy cross by Bastien Schweinsteiger found Juninho, only for the misdirect to be narrowly cleared off the line by Matt Bahner.

The second half started with more of the same pressure put on Hildebrandt, who had to make three sprawling saves within a 20-minute span. However, once FC Cincinnati started to slide in their substitutes, the pace of the game changed dramatically. Jimmy McLaughlin and Corben Bone came in and began to take advantage of the Chicago press, intercepting in the middle and sprinting ahead of the tiring Chicago defense. Both were denied scoring opportunities in stoppage time, only to be turned away by goalkeeper Matt Lampson and a questionable non-call in the Chicago box.

Extra time saw some point-blank saves by both keepers, as action ran from goal line to goal line. An early extra-time substitution almost paid dividends, as Andrew Wiedeman’s intense 109’ goal celebration was cut short with an offsides call. That chance was followed by more fingertip saves by Hildebrandt, and a late near-post save by Lampson.

With all the time played with no resolution, Hildebrandt outperformed Lampson in penalty kicks, letting in only one shot to Lampson’s three. After watching Hildebrandt deflect Juninho’s final attempt, the bouncing Nippert crowd erupted in cheers and blue-orange smoke while the team dog-piled on the hero of the day in excitement.

This win marks the furthest a USL team has made it into the U.S. Open Cup tournament since then-USL Orlando City upset Colorado and Kansas City to make it into the quarterfinals in 2013. FC Cincinnati now travels to play NASL division-leaders Miami FC on July 12th, as Miami upset MLS’s Atlanta United with their own late-game heroics, advancing on a 3-2 win after a 93rd minute goal by Kwadwo Poku. This matchup guarantees a D2 team in the USOC semifinals for the first time since the Richmond Kickers did it in 2011.

Match Changing Moment

Mitch Hildebrandt’s first PK save on Chicago’s Nemanja Nicolic. After Aodhan Quinn had skied FCC’s first PK attempt, Hildebrandt slapped the MLS scoring leader’s shot away to the left with a sprawling save. Had it not been for this play, FCC could have been forced to come from behind for the win. Instead, Josu, Harrison Delbridge, and McLaughlin calmly stepped up to bury their shots, while Mitch said “No!” two more times against Arturo Alvarez and Juninho.

Four Numbers That Mattered

18-7 – The advantage Chicago had in corner kicks. While FCC managed to adjust and make more ventures into the Chicago box in the second half, most of the possession belonged to Chicago, who held a 70-30 advantage over the entire game. Chicago received the first 9 CKs of the game, only for the FCC D-line to bend and not break. Outside of the possession and corner kick battle, Cincinnati managed to keep it close in shots (20 to 26), shots on goal (7 to 10), and fouls (13 to 14).

66’ – The minute that Jimmy McLaughlin came on to substitute for Eric Stevenson. With Cincinnati struggling to keep consistent possession during the game, McLaughlin was subbed on to give a spark on the edge. McLaughlin immediately stretched the field with his speed, matching König for most attempts on goal (5).

499 – Number of minutes since the last time FC Cincinnati conceded a goal in U.S. Open Cup play. Ever since the 11th minute in the loss at Tampa Bay June 1st of last year, the combination of Hildebrandt and backup Dallas Jaye have completely shut down the opposition over the four games this year (three 1-0 wins and the 0-0 result vs. Chicago). All of Hildebrandt’s 10 saves came in the second half and extra time, not including those stellar three blocks in PK time.

32,287 – People packing the Nippert Stadium stands. This goes without saying. The crowd once again flooded the seats and stayed rocking throughout the game. FC Cincinnati and Chicago played in front of the second-largest modern-day U.S. Open Cup crowd ever, bested only by the 35,615 who witnessed the 2011 U.S. Open Cup final, in which Chicago also lost (this time to Seattle).

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.

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Match Photos: FC Cincinnati 1 – 0 Columbus Crew SC

Images courtesy of Ryan Meyer of FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC in the US Open Cup on June 14th.

Photos-CoverRelive FC Cincinnati’s US Open Cup victory with 30 images courtesy of Ryan Meyer. When browsing the gallery below for any given image, a high resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.”

Read Recap: FC Cincinnati 1 – 0 Columbus Crew SC: Four Numbers That Mattered

 

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for bonus photos of Wednesday’s Cup win over Crew SC and more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s season. Up next is a match at Nippert against USL Eastern Conference leaders the Charleston Battery.

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