The NASL has done quite well in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup so far. This is the 100th edition of the Cup, and while it’s not as well known as comparable tournaments like the FA Cup, its long pedigree means it’s quite prestigious. NASL teams started play a couple weeks ago, and last week saw their first crack at MLS teams.
It’s a ton of fun to see teams from all walks of US soccer take each other on. Since the advent of MLS in 1996, there’s only been one non-MLS team to win the Cup: the Rochester Rhinos in 1999. Rochester carved a wide swath through the MLS teams, beating the Chicago Fire, Dallas Burn, Columbus Crew, and Colorado Rapids on their way to the championship. Rochester played in the A-League at the time, which was both the de-facto second divison of US soccer and also the direct predecessor to USL Pro — the current third division of US soccer and still the current home of the Rhinos.
While I’m talking Open Cup history, I also wanted to point out the 1997 final, between Dallas Burn and DC United. That final is particularly interesting because it was played at Carroll Stadium – the upcoming home for the Eleven. It’s really interesting to see a top-level match at Carroll, and gives just a taste of what we’ll be watching next spring.
But enough of days gone by. What’s happening this year?
The second round matches were held on 21 May. All six US NASL teams were in action (Edmonton isn’t eligible, of course, what with being Canadian and all.) The NASL had four winners and two losers, with Minnesota and San Antonio bowing out to their PDL opposition.
Round 2 Winners:
- Carolina RailHawks 3 – 1 Carolina Dynamo (PDL)
- Georgia Revolution (NPSL) 2-3 Atlanta Silverbacks
- VSI Tampa Bay FC (USL Pro) 1-2 Tampa Bay Rowdies
- Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1-1 (7-6 PK) Laredo Heat (PDL)
Round 2 Losers:
- Minnesota United FC 0-1 Des Moines Menace (PDL)
- San Antonio Scorpions 2-2 (3-4 PK) FC Tuscon (PDL)
The third round saw the remaining NASL teams face MLS opposition. It was a tale of two days: on Tuesday 28 May, the MLS sides were victorious, but on Wednesday 29 May, the NASL sides took the honors in two great matches.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 0-2 FC Dallas
Fort Lauderdale had a few good chances in the match, but Dallas were able to record their first road win in the Cup in six years. Goals from Blas Perez at 54′ and Matt Hedges at 66′ were more than enough to see Dallas through to the fourth round.
Real Salt Lake 3-2 (AET) Atlanta Silverbacks
Atlanta’s wet visit to Salt Lake was a much closer game, and the Silverbacks represented the NASL well. Salt Lake started quickest. Robbie Findley was denied at 2′ by a good Joe Nasco save, but the resulting corner from Javier Morales was headed home at the near post by Kyle Beckerman on 3′. After the goal, Salt Lake kept piling on pressure, but Nasco had a series of saves to keep Atlanta in contention, as heavy showers drenched the field.
Later in the second half, Atlanta began to see more of the ball, piling on pressure as they sought an equalizer. The pressure told at 86′ through a counterattack when Kellen Gulley shot over the onrusing Josh Saunders. Saunders could only tip the shot back into his own net.
Extra time saw Salt Lake take control, with goals from Devon Sandoval at 98′ and Khari Stephenson at 101′. Atlanta pulled a late goal back through Pablo Cruz at 121′, but there was no time for a comeback and Atlanta went home with the honorable loss.
Carolina RailHawks 2-0 LA Galaxy
Carolina played host to the illustrious LA Galaxy, after dumping them from the cup last year. LA fielded a weakened side; manager Bruce Arena didn’t even travel to Carolina, sending assistant Curt Onalfo in his place. If LA thought that they would have an easy time against NASL opposition, the RailHawks proved them wrong.
The match was evenly balanced for the first half, but Carolina opened the scoring at 56′. Austin da Luz hit a relatively tame shot from about 15 yards. Goalkeeper Brian Rowe got down easily to save it, but the ball squeezed under his arms and trickled into the back of the net. Rowe’s embarassment was compounded at 59′ when Brian Shriver broke through on goal; Shriver’s shot was well taken but should still have been stopped. But it beat Rowe and the RailHawks had a clear path to victory.
Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-0 Seattle Sounders
Three-time Open Cup champions Seattle visited Tampa Bay in the middle of an 8-day roadtrip, sandwiched between two MLS matches at the Home Depot Center against LA Galaxy and Chivas USA. Seattle too fielded a side of bench players and reserves, and while they fared better than the Galaxy, it still wasn’t enough to defeat the Rowdies.
Tampa Bay held off early pressure from the Sounders, and then were able to score themselves at 75′. Marcus Hahnemann was able to tip Luke Mullholland’s shot, but Georgi Hristov lurked at the back post to tap home. Seattle found a lifeline at 85′ when Obafemi Martins headed on goal. It was kept out by defender Jordan Gafa’s arm; Gafa was shown red and the Sounders had a penalty. But Martins’ penalty (placed well to the left corner, but lacking power) was saved by keeper Diego Restrepo to preserve the Rowdies’ victory.
In the 12 other matches, the MLS sides were able to win 10. But that left a couple of classy upsets for third-division teams.
Charleston Battery (USL Pro) 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes: Charleston is no stranger to upsets, having beaten MLS sides 9 times in Open Cup history. Their goal came at 73′ as Colin Falvey headed home the free kick from Jose Cuevas. San Jose’s Brad Ring picked up his second yellow a minute later, and Charleston were able to hang on for the home win and a trip to Salt Lake in the 4th Round
Orlando City SC (USL Pro) 3-1 Colorado Rapids: Orlando City and Colorado traded goals in the first half, with Bryan Burke scoring first for Orlando on 4′ and Kamani Hill equalizing for Colorado at 18′. City broke things open early in the second half, as Dom Dwyer (the leading scorer in USL Pro) headed home from a Burke cross at 48′ for the lead. Colorado’s day went from bad to worse at 56′ when keeper Steward Ceus was sent off for a last man foul outside the box on Dwyer. Dwyer scored the clinching goal at 63′ from a Long Tan cross.
Orlando City will face Sporting Kansas City in the fourth round. That’s a bit unfortunate as KC is the parent club for the USL Pro side, and four of Orlando City’s players are on loan from KC. That includes starters Dwyer and defender Yann Songo’o. All four will be held out of the game, so Orlando City will face an uphill battle for a second upset.
- Richmond Kickers (USL Pro) 0-0 (2-4 PK) DC United
- Rochester Rhinos (USL Pro) 2-5 New England Revolution
- Philadelphia Union 2-1 Ocean City Nor’easters (PDL)
- Sporting Kansas City 2-0 Des Moines Menace (PDL)
- Los Angeles Blues (USL Pro) 1-2 Chivas USA
- Charlotte Eagles (USL Pro) 0-2 Chicago Fire
- Columbus Crew 2-1 Dayton Dutch Lions (USL Pro)
- New York Red Bulls 2-0 Reading United (PDL)
- Houston Dynamo 2-0 FC Tucson (PDL)
- Portland Timbers 5-1 Wilmington Hammerheads (USL Pro)
Round Four will play out on Wednesday 12 June, when sixteen teams will fight it out for a place in the quarterfinals. The two NASL teams will play cross-continent opponents. The Carolina RailHawks will host their second Los Angeles team in a row at WakeMed Soccer Park, when they face Chivas USA at 7:15PM EDT. The Tampa Bay Rowdies will play their second Pacific Northwest team in a row when they travel to Jeld-Wen Field to face the Portland Timbers at 10:00PM EDT. The Rowdies play in Edmonton this Saturday before visiting Carolina on 8 June, so there’s a lot of travel in their future.
Carolina looks to have the easier task, but surprises are what makes the Open Cup so exciting. I can’t wait for the first time the Eleven get to take on an MLS opponent in Indy; let’s hope it happens next year!