By PABLO MAURER
Major League Soccer may be on a bit of an international break, but there’s still plenty of action to go around this week in the form of the U.S. Open Cup fourth round. Twelve MLS sides are joined in the Round of 16 by four lower-tier competitors—two from the NASL and a pair of USL-Pro clubs as well.
D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union renew rivalries in the mid-week cup match, with both teams, especially the hosts D.C. United, desperate for a win. FC Dallas take on in-state rivals, the Houston Dynamo, in what will likely be a heated battle, while the Columbus Crew visit Bridgeview to face the Chicago Fire, with the two Midwestern clubs hoping to make another run towards a U.S. Open Cup title.
One of the matches to watch will be Sporting Kansas City against Orlando City, with the bizarre circumstance that will leave a number of Orlando City players out of the lineup, due to them being on-loan at the club from Sporting KC.
With eight games spread out across the evening, here’s a look at tonight’s match-ups:
D.C. United vs Philadelphia Union, 7:00 PM ET, Maryland SoccerPlex, Livestream
D.C. United enter their match with the Union tonight in the middle of the worst season in franchise history. Given their perils in league play, the club has heaped added importance on making a run in the Open Cup, something United head coach Ben Olsen has mentioned repeatedly over the past couple of months.
Their third round match with the USL-Pro Richmond Kickers didn’t go exactly as planned, however. United trotted out a near full-strength starting lineup against Richmond, but couldn’t manage to find the back of the net in regulation and needed penalties to dispatch their third-tier opponents. Things will get even more complicated for the Black and Red tonight, as they’ll be without the services of Chris Korb and Carlos Ruiz, both of whom received red cards against Richmond. Korb’s absence thins out a back line that’s been problematic at best; Ruiz had been rounding into form and could have possibly provided United with the offensive spark they’ve so often missed this year.
As for Philadelphia, Union head coach John Hackworth doesn’t have to jog his memory back very far to remember an Open Cup match against United. This will be the Union’s third consecutive trip to Boyds, Md.—they emerged victorious in last year’s Round of 16 match, a wild, extra-time affair against United that saw players from both clubs ejected. It was a chippy, emotional match, as has become the norm in one of the Eastern Conference’s budding rivalries.
“I’d be surprised if both teams finished this game 11 v 11,” Hackworth said yesterday in his weekly press conference. “I think it’s going to be a hard, emotional game. I think D.C. will put absolutely everything they have into winning the game, so we’ll have to make sure that we match or exceed all of those things.”
Though those comments may imply that Hackworth will roll out a near full-strength lineup for tonight’s match, that doesn’t seem entirely likely. A full-strength United lineup seems almost completely certain; Philadelphia, however, remains focused on league play and has a bit less to lose.
Carolina Railhawks (NASL) vs Chivas USA, 7:15 PM ET, WakeMed Soccer Park, Audio Stream
Chivas USA is another MLS side trudging through Open Cup play in the midst of a lackluster MLS season, as they’ve made themselves at home in the Western Conference basement. They’ll get their chance to book their spot in the quarterfinals tonight when they travel to Cary, N.C., for their match up with the Railhawks. The two sides last met in 2012 - Chivas narrowly escaped elimination, relying on a Juan Pablo Angel penalty kick in stoppage time to send Carolina packing.
Chivas hasn’t won an MLS contest since late March and are in the midst of a coaching and front office transition. The Railhawks, on the other hand, enter tonight’s match sitting atop the NASL table, and have yet to lose a home game in league play. They have the league’s scoring leader in Brian Shriver, who has connected well with former D.C. United and Red Bulls midfielder Austin Da Luz – who sits atop the NASL in assists. The Railhawks have already proven themselves in the 2013 edition the USOC, after eliminating defending MLS Cup Champions LA Galaxy in the third round.
On paper, at least, this seems like a very winnable game for Carolina.
New England Revolution vs New York Red Bulls, 7:30 PM ET, Soldiers Field, Livestream
Two of the Eastern Conference’s hottest teams will square off tonight in one of the fourth round’s more intriguing matches. The Revolution are unbeaten in their past six games (4-0-2), while New York’s loss to Vancouver on June 1st was their first defeat in eight matches. New England earned their spot in the round of 16 via a 5-1 thumping of the Rochester Rhinos, while the Red Bulls relied on second half goals from Fabian Espindola and Lloyd Sam to cruise past PDL Side Reading United FC.
New York will enter the match in the midst of a three week break from MLS play, and will likely field a lineup that’s similar (if not a bit stronger) to the one that took the field against Reading. They’ll have to do without the services of Jamison Olave and Thierry Henry—who aren’t particularly fond of FieldTurf—and will also be missing Tim Cahill and Roy Miller, both of whom are on international duty.
New England has its share of absences to deal with as well; Clyde Simms and Donnie Smith are both unavailable due to injury, while Jerry Bengston is away representing Honduras in World Cup qualifiers. Faced with the prospect of boarding a cross-country flight to Vancouver on Thursday, New England’s will likely rely on their depth in tonight’s match, trotting out the likes of Chad Barrett, Kalifa Cisse, Andy Dorman, Matt Reis, and A. J. Soares.
Tonight’s match will take place at Harvard University’s Soldiers Field, and will (surprisingly enough) be the first game the Revs have ever played in Boston. The 2,500 seat venue is sold out.
Sporting KC vs. Orlando City SC (USL Pro), 8:30 PM ET, Sporting Park (Livestream)
Sporting KC are the defending USOC champions, and they’ll square off against their USL Pro affiliate Orlando City tonight. To say that Orlando have been dominant in USL this year is an understatement—the Lions are undefeated at home and have only lost one match on the road. Their goal differential is an astounding +23, and the club hasn’t lost a game since early April.
There’s just one problem: their success has in large part been due to the four loanees that KC have sent them, most notably forward Dom Dwyer (who’s already shattered the USL single-season scoring record.) Those four players are ineligible for Open Cup play, dealing a sizable blow to Orlando’s Open Cup aspirations.
The Lions defeated a road-weary Colorado Rapids team to arrive in the Round of 16, and they’ll be looking to upset another top-tier side when they visit Kansas City. Even without Dwyer and company, Orlando can compete.
Though Sporting are favorites, they’re also facing a bit of adversity after losing six players to international duty. Peterson Joseph and Mechack Jerome are away with Haiti, while Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are on USMNT duty. Kei Kamara and Sierra Leone will face Cape Verde Islands later this week, while Mikey Lopez is with the U.S. U-20s as they prepare for the U-20 World Cup. This one promises to be interesting.
Chicago Fire vs Columbus Crew, 8:30PM ET, Toyota Park
Chicago is another side that has put special emphasis on the Open Cup this year, and is just one cup shy of tying the all-time USOC record of five titles. Picked by some to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference, the Fire have been largely disappointing this year, and may see the Open Cup as a chance to right the ship.
They’ll head into tonight’s clash with Columbus only missing a couple of pieces; midfielder Joel Lindpere and Victor Pineda are on international duty. Columbus, on the other hand, will visit Chicago a bit more banged up. They lost midfielder Eddie Gaven to an ACL tear in third round action, while defenders Chad Marshall and Augustin Viana remain injured as well. What’s more, they’ll be without the services of Jairo Arrieta, who’s on international duty with Costa Rica.
While both teams will likely play a mix of bench players and regular starters, things seem a bit more desperate for Columbus, with Crew head coach Robert Warzycha noting earlier in the week that he doesn’t have a choice when it comes to playing his younger players.
FC Dallas vs Houston Dynamo, 9:00PM ET, FC Dallas Stadium
Dallas and Houston will meet in a USOC-themed installment of the Texas Derby tonight, with both teams missing some key pieces. Houston will be without Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia, away representing their respective countries. Dallas will be without Blas Perez, who fell ill while on duty with Panama.
Houston is another club that will likely benefit from MLS’ erratic scheduling. They last played on June 1 and won’t be playing a league match until next weekend. The break has served them well, as they’ve used it to bring a slew of injured players back into the fold ahead of their Open Cup encounter. Given the timing of the match, Dom Kinnear may find himself with a near full-strength team for the Dallas match.
FCD will also be gunning for a spot in the quarterfinals, and will likely depend on Kenny Cooper to book their ticket. Cooper, the club’s all-time leading scorer against the Dynamo, says he doesn’t think of the match any differently than a league encounter.
“The game against Houston is always very important to the club whether it’s a friendly, reserve game, Open Cup,or league game,” Cooper told the club’s website earlier in the week. “I think as players we know how important [it is] any time we put on our jersey and go up against the in-state rivals.”
Real Salt Lake vs Charleston Battery (USL Pro), 9:30PM ER, Rio Tinto Stadium
The Charleston Battery enter their match with RSL this evening as perennial MLS-killers. The USL-Pro side have beaten MLS clubs on three different occasions this year, including their 1-0 victory over San Jose in the USOC’s fourth round. If they manage to upset Salt Lake, the third-division side may find themselves with a realistic chance at making the semis, as they’ll end up playing the winner of the Chivas/Carolina match.
RSL, however, seem to have a leg up. Despite narrowly avoiding a fourth-round upset against the Atlanta Silverbacks, the Claret and Cobalt enter tonight’s encounter having only dropped one of their past eight games. They have what’s arguably the deepest roster of any team in the USOC—though they’ll be missing Nick Rimando, Kenny Mansally and Alvaro Saborio to international call-ups—and won’t play another match until June 22. They’re particularly deep on offense, where head coach Jason Kreis can call on Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval, Olmes Garcia, or Joao Plata to fill in for Saborio. Advantage: RSL.
Portland Timbers vs Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL), 10:30PM ET, Jeld-Wen Field, Livestream
Your USOC nightcap this evening is an intriguing one, with Portland welcoming defending NASL champion Tampa Bay to Jeld-Wen. The Rowdies will enter the match having shocked Seattle in the fourth round, while the Timbers comfortably dispatched of the Wilmington Hammerheads to book their spot in the Round of 16.
Coming off of a deflating draw against Chicago and ahead of an important match against league-leading FC Dallas on Saturday, Portland head coach Caleb Porter suggested earlier in the week that he’ll play a mix of starters and bench players this evening. He’ll do the same this weekend; the former Akron head coach also stated that he considers the USOC encounter as important as a league match.
Tampa is led by forward Georgi Hristov, who leads the team with seven goals. The Rowdies run in Open Cup play has been largely thanks to former U.S. youth international Diego Restrepo, who saved penalty kick attempts in Tampa’s fifth and fourth round matches. Brimming with confidence after knocking off a Seattle side that had only lost a single game in their previous 23 Open Cup matches, Tampa will be a handful for the Timbers.
And one quick side note: the roots of tonight’s game go back very, very far. The two clubs actually met in the 1975 NASL Soccer Bowl. The Rowdies came out on top in that encounter, though I’m having a hard time finding anybody from that match who’s still on their game day roster.
Which U.S. Open Cup matches interest you the most tonight? Do you think any of the USL-Pro or NASL sides will make it through to the quarterfinals?
Share your thoughts below.