Lower league teams have been battling through the early rounds of the U.S. Open Cup over the past three weeks, and those who remain in America’s longest running football competition must now take on clubs from Major League Soccer as the tournament’s third round sees the top-flight teams enter the fray.
Organised by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and structured in a style similar to England’s FA Cup, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup - or more commonly known simply as the Open Cup - was created in 1913. Now in its 100th year, the tournament is as competitive and lucrative as ever. The 2013 edition of the tournament features four extra teams, expanding the field to 68, and prize money has increased by $175,000 spread across the tournament winner, runner-up and the team from each lower division that advances the furthest.
The third round of the Open Cup features MLS sides challenging lower division clubs from the North American Soccer League (NASL), United Soccer League (USL PRO) and the Premier Development League (PDL). 2012 Open Cup winner Sporting Kansas City begin their title defence at home when they tackle Des Moines Menace (PDL) on Tuesday evening, and the other 15 American-based MLS clubs are all participating in the third round, while the three Canadian MLS sides have been competing in the Canadian Championship.
Several of the third round matches feature MLS clubs facing up against some of their local lower-division rivals. These match-ups include D.C. United taking on Richmond Kickers (USL PRO), Ocean City Nor’Easters (PDL) challenging Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls visiting Reading United (PDL) and LA Blues (USL PRO) battling Chivas USA in Southern California.
Third round can prove treacherous
Columbus Crew host Dayton Dutch Lions (USL PRO) on Wednesday night, and Crew are hoping to reverse their fortunes against their fellow Ohioan opponent as the lower division side shocked the 2008 MLS Cup winners with a 2-1 win in the third round of last year’s Open Cup. Columbus wasn’t the only MLS club to make an early exit from the competition last year, however. A staggering eight top-flight teams were bounced from the tournament at this stage in 2012.
While most fixtures kick off on Tuesday evening, a few matches have been scheduled for Wednesday to accommodate the travel schedules of some MLS clubs. Coming off a tough 4-0 loss at Los Angeles Galaxy, Seattle Sounders now travel across the country to face Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) on Wednesday only to fly straight back to Los Angeles to take on Chivas USA.
And with the potential to host Portland Timbers in the fourth round if the Oregon club can take down Wilmington Hammerheads (USL PRO) on Wednesday, Seattle - who won three consecutive Open Cup titles from 2009-2011 and lost in the final last year - will undoubtedly be looking for a result in Florida despite the extensive travel involved.
The fourth round draw also creates the possibility of two other MLS derbies, with FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo meeting in the Lone Star showdown if they can effectively dispatch Fort Lauderdale Strikers (USL PRO) and FC Tucson (PDL) respectively, while Los Angeles could see another SuperClasico if Chivas USA can beat LA Blues and Los Angeles Galaxy take down Carolina Railhawks (NASL).
While the match-ups on paper may not seem terribly balanced in some instances, Bradford City’s success in England’s League Cup is just the most recent reminder to top-flight teams that no one in this competition is safe. The Open Cup third round promises to be electrifying as the lower division clubs compete against America’s best to earn a spot in the fourth round scheduled to take place on 12 June.