By JUSTIN FERGUSON
After a wild Tuesday evening of upsets, narrow wins, red cards and last-minute goals, seven more Major League Soccer sides look to survive and advance in Wednesday’s Third Round action in the 100th U.S. Open Cup.
Charlotte Eagles (USL Pro) vs. Chicago Fire (MLS): 7 p.m. ET, Winthrop University Stadium
The most successful MLS team in Open Cup history will start its title campaign Tuesday night. The Chicago Fire have won this competition four times and were twice runners-up, but they would like to move on from their most recent performance in the competition. Chicago was knocked out in the Third Round last year, a 3-2 extra time loss to the PDL’s Michigan Bucks.
The Fire, who have only tallied eight points in 11 MLS matches so far this year, will face another tough test in this year’s Third Round. The Charlotte Eagles, fresh off of last week’s 3-0 win over the Seattle Sounders’ U-23s, blanked FC Dallas in last year’s Third Round and made it to the quarterfinals of the tournament. Charlotte suffered its first loss of the USL Pro season last Saturday, a 4-3 thriller with the Los Angeles Blues.
Chicago’s struggling offense may get the spark they need in their trip to Charlotte in the form of the newly acquired Mike Magee. The Chicago native could debut for his hometown club on Wednesday night, and the Fire desperately need him to generate goals like he did in Los Angeles—while Magee has scored six times already this MLS season, Chicago has only scored seven as an entire team.
Let’s take a look at the rest of Wednesday’s matches:
Carolina RailHawks (NASL) vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS): 7:15 p.m. ET, WakeMed Soccer Park
Los Angeles will be looking for revenge in their trip to North Carolina on Wednesday night as they face the NASL’s Carolina RailHawks in a rematch of 2012′s Third Round clash of the league champions. The RailHawks came from behind last year to knock off the Galaxy 2-1 at WakeMed Soccer Park, and they would love nothing more than to beat the defending MLS Champions once again.
Carolina is currently in second place in the country’s second-tier league and defeated fellow North Carolina club Carolina Dynamo last week by a score of 3-1. The RailHawks have only lost once this season, a 2-0 defeat at the hands of NASL-leading Atlanta. They are led on offense by striker Brian Shriver, who scored the game-winner against the Galaxy last season and led the entire competition in goals. The Florida native leads the league with five goals in six matches so far this season.
The RailHawks will hope Shriver can lead the offense again in Wednesday’s rematch as the Galaxy boast one of MLS’s hottest offenses. Los Angeles has scored four goals in two of their last three matches, including Sunday night’s 4-0 riot over the Seattle Sounders. With all of their recent success in MLS, the Galaxy could use a change in their recent Open Cup play—since their 2006 title appearance, Los Angeles has only made it past the Third Round twice.
New York Red Bulls (MLS) vs. Reading United (PDL): 7:30 p.m. ET, Red Bull Arena
Based on recent USOC history and MLS form, the New York Red Bulls are heavy favorites heading into their home match with PDL’s Reading United. New York is unbeaten in their last seven MLS matches and has only lost once in the Third Round of this competition.
Much like the Michigan Bucks last season, Reading United will be the PDL side looking to pull off one more big upset in this tournament. United shutout fellow Pennsylvania-based clubs FC Sonic Lehigh Valley and Harrisburg City to get this far, and they have outscored opponents 15-0 in PDL play this season. If Reading’s tough defense can get under the skin of New York’s strikers and find a goal or two, we could have the upset of the round on our hands.
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) vs. Seattle Sounders (MLS): 7:30 p.m. ET, Al Lang Stadium
The last time a Seattle Sounders team faced the Tampa Bay Rowdies, it was the 1983 season of the old NASL. Thirty years later, the new version of Seattle looks to make it five finals appearances in five USOC campaigns, and their journey begins in the Sunshine State on Wednesday night.
The Sounders are coming off of a 4-0 beatdown at Los Angeles that snapped their unbeaten run in MLS play. After a slow start to 2013, it appeared that Seattle had finally turned the corner, scoring four goals in back-to-back wins over Western Conference foes. However, in Los Angeles, the Sounders did not even generate a single shot on goal.
Seattle hopes it can find its offense in Tampa, where the defending NASL champions have raced out to a respectable third place in the early season. But head coach Sigi Schmid will have to dig deep into his roster to find it—first-teamers Patrick Ianni (two yellow cards in last year’s USOC final), Osvaldo Alonso (last year’s card accumulation), Leo Gonzalez, Mauro Rosales, Djimi Traore, Eddie Johnson (USMNT) and Brad Evans (USMNT) are not available for the Sounders for their match with the Rowdies.
Columbus Crew (MLS) vs. Dayton Dutch Lions (USL Pro): 7:30 p.m., Columbus Crew Stadium
Just like Los Angeles, Columbus will get a chance to avenge their Third Round loss in the 2012 competition with a rematch on Wednesday night. Last year, the USL Pro’s Dayton Dutch Lions defeated Columbus 2-1 to knock the Crew out of the tournament named after their club founder.
Since their 2010 run to the tournament final, the Crew have been one and done in their last two Open Cup campaigns. They are also coming off of a 2-2 match against New York that they should have won, as Jamison Olave scored a stoppage-time equalizer to snatch a draw in Columbus. With a trip to face Eastern Conference foe Houston in the headlights for the Crew, a slump-snapping win in the Open Cup could give them a much-needed boost.
Dayton, a squad supported by Dutch outfit FC Twente, has a shot at a playoff spot in the league table thanks to their current five-match unbeaten streak. In this competition, the Dutch Lions knocked off amateur side Dearborn 4-1 last week after an extra-time explosion of goals and were quarterfinalists in last year’s Open Cup. They have scored multiple goals in every match of their unbeaten streak, so look for a defensive battle between these two Ohio sides.
Houston Dynamo (MLS) vs. FC Tucson (PDL): 8:30 p.m. ET, BBVA Compass Stadium
Houston was another MLS side that crashed out in last year’s upset-heavy Third Round and was close to getting a rematch of their own this year.
But the PDL’s FC Tucson knocked off the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions in penalty kicks last weekend, so the Arizona-based club will be headed to BBVA Compass Stadium instead of last year’s victors. Tucson also beat USL Pro side Phoenix FC by a 2-1 margin in this year’s Open Cup. FCT were founded in 2010, and their maiden voyage in the PDL last season culminated in a playoff spot. The young club has got a fair amount of early success, and they will have a chance on Wednesday to pull off a monumental shocker.
Houston enters Wednesday’s Open Cup match winless in five of their last six matches in MLS. The Dynamo have not hosted an Open Cup match in several years, and their best runs in the tournament were a pair of semifinal runs. With numerous starters injured or reporting for international duty, this will be a perfect time for some Dynamo reserves to make a name for themselves and try to avoid a repeat of last season’s early exit.
Portland Timbers (MLS) vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (USL Pro): 10:30 p.m. ET, JELD-WEN Field
Do you know who is really ready to get past their 2012 Open Cup loss? The Portland Timbers. Last year’s 1-0 loss in extra time to amateur side Cal FC was one of the biggest upsets in tournament history as the Eric Wynalda-coached squad took advantage of Portland’s woeful finishing (42 shots) to pull off a late stunner.
But this is a different Portland team than the one that crashed out of the tournament this time last year. New coach Caleb Porter has the Timbers in second place in the Western Conference, riding an 11-match unbeaten streak. Fresh off a 2-0 win over D.C. United, Portland returns to the friendly confines of JELD-WEN in hopes of making their first run in the U.S. Open Cup.
Their opponents, the Wilmington Hammerheads, are used to playing on the road by now—Wednesday’s trip to Portland will be their fourth straight match away from home. Wilmington, who was crushed by Cal FC in the Second Round last year, reached the USL Pro final last season but is in danger of missing the playoffs this season. They were outscored 5-1 in their recent two-match swing in Florida, and they have only won twice in the league this season. This should be a great chance for Portland to get the ball rolling in the Open Cup.
What are your thoughts on these matchups? See any shockers on the schedule? How about any repeats of last year’s big upsets?
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