U.S. Soccer

Michigan Amateurs Bucking the System

The players were banged up. They’d been on a long stretch without a break so Michigan Bucks coach Demir Muftari decided to give his boys a morning off. “They needed it,” he told ussoccer.com. But fast-forward to 9 a.m. that next day and there they all were at the pitch lacing up. “Every single one of them,” said Muftari speaking slowly and admiringly, as he often does, of his young players. “And we’re talking college kids here.”

It’s a good indication of how things are done with the Michigan Bucks, an amateur team out of Pontiac (not far from Detroit). It’s that kind of commitment and tenacity that’s seen the side, made up of an annually rotating cast of some of the country’s best college players, become one of the top teams in the Premier Development League (PDL) and the most effective and consistent giant-killers in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup history. No amateur team has taken more professional scalps than the Bucks.

 

The club has pulled off ten upsets in 11 trips to the Open Cup. In 2000 they became the first PDL team to beat a side from MLS when they edged New England Revolution on the road in Foxboro. Then they beat four-time champs Chicago Fire in 2012, the crowning achievement for a club that takes pride in doing things the right way.

“It’s not something we think about day to day. We don’t stand around and think of ourselves as giant-killers,” said England-born captain Tom Owens, in good mood because his beloved Liverpool booked a place in next year’s UEFA Champions League. “We’re here now and what’s happened in the past is no help to us. Nothing we did in our last game is going to help us in our next.”

Another pro scalp
But the Bucks’ last game in the 2017 Open Cup was something special – a 1-0 win over full pros Indy Eleven of the North American Soccer League (NASL). “It was a massive win for us. We combined belief with preparation and execution,” admitted Owens who’s in his fourth year with the club, revered by many in the developmental ranks as nothing shy of the gold standard. He’s 25 now and his hopes of reaching the professional game – the expressed purpose of the PDL – are fading. He’s begun coaching, with Quincy University in Illinois, but he’s not quite ready to make the full leap. “I need to get this desire to play out of my system before I focus just on coaching.”

Coach Muftari slows down when he talks about his players and his club. He’s serious and he knows he’s discussing something special. Something rare. He sounds like a TV dad in the best possible way. His feeling for his players, like his trusted skipper Owens, quickly becomes clear. “I always tell Tom he’s got a bright future in coaching this game, but he gets mad because he still has the passion to play.”

There is very clearly a Bucks way of doing things, and it’s brought the club massive success since its founding in 1995. “Winning in the Open Cup is just part of the culture here,” said Muftari, head coach of a club that’s placed a growing list of players – like current D.C. United defender Kofi Opare and former U.S. National Team stand-out-turned-assistant coach Pat Noonan – in the professional ranks. “A main reason guys come here is because there’s that potential. The Open Cup is a different animal and it’s a huge opportunity for them to play against pros. All these guys here want to be pros. They’re here in their summer, working and sacrificing for it.” 

   

A lot of coaches in the PDL take it for granted that players will sacrifice and grind, go along with whatever plan is laid out for them. Muftari doesn’t. Not at all. He appreciates his players, those who go on to star for MLS clubs and those who bring the Bucks ethic to fields beyond soccer. He respects their effort, their skill and their character. “There’s a handful of guys coming back from last year,” said the coach who saw seven of his players drafted to the pros at the end of last season. “They keep everyone in check and help manage the attitude and intensity of the group. That core of guys, Tom Owens included, pass on the message of the club.”

“The lads are easy to communicate with,” said Owens, dismissing any notion of pressure as captain of a team where there’s much expected and big history to live up to. “You don’t have to motivate them too much because they’re driven.”

Up next for the Bucks is a tough test against St Louis FC of the United Soccer League (USL), another full professional club coached by former U.S. National Team star Preki Radosavljević. It’s bound to be an interesting evening for the men from Missouri who are currently struggling in ninth place of the USL’s Eastern Conference standings. The force of their amateur opposition, and the strangeness of their game-day surroundings, might surprise the 2015 USL expansion franchise.

At home indoors
“It’s not up to us where we play. We’re players so we’ll play on a baseball field or a basketball court,” said Owens when asked about the huge indoor complex, Ultimate Soccer Arenas, the Bucks call home. It looks, feels and sounds like an airplane hanger. “We have a certain comfort level here that’s hard to explain,” added Muftari about the venue. “We train there every day. The stands are close and there’s an energy to it. We love it.”

St. Louis will do well not to underestimate their amateur hosts. “If we played Indy Eleven ten times we’d lose most of those games,” said Owens who admits to a Cup buzz after the win in the previous round. “But these games in the Cup are special. Anything can happen on the day. When you throw into the mix we’re playing against guys who are at the level we want to be at, you end up with more of a chip on your shoulder.”

 

There’s a sense of anticipation – and expectation – around the Ultimate Soccer Arenas these days. But it’s Muftari’s job to keep his head, to remember the big picture, and make sure things are done the right way. The Bucks way. “History and culture mean a lot here,” he said, slowing down again and thinking precisely about what to say. “We’re not selling these players flimsy promises and false dreams. We’re building something. We have success because we strive to do things the right way.”

Muftari and his staff are doing their jobs right. There’s no doubt about it. It’s clear in the attitude of the players, now just one win away from a game against four-time Open Cup champs Chicago Fire and the possibility of writing their own page in the history books. “Our win over Indy Eleven won’t help us now,” said Owens, following his dreams of a professional career for one more year at least. “Nothing that any Bucks team has done before is going to help us. We want to make our own history and we have a job to do.”

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U.S. Open Cup May 27, 2017

Wynalda, LA’s Lone Wolf

It’s safe to say Eric Wynalda does things his own way. Always has. From his playing days, when he was among the first Americans to try their luck abroad, to today, spouting big opinions on TV, Wynalda’s very much his own man. But the Southern California native, a legend of the American game who can come off as smug and coarse in the pundits’ booth, has a secret. He cares. A lot. About players, those little moments in the game that can change lives, and the romance of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

“The Open Cup is about something intensely American,” said Wynalda, head-coach of ambitious amateur outfit LA Wolves. “It’s about opportunity. There are opportunities for guys who come from outside the lines. You get an opportunity to show you’re good enough to play with the best. You get to show the strength of one game and one day. One little moment in time.”

 

Wynalda seems to live for that precise moment, that instant when you either take a chance or waste it. He knows about opportunities too, having scored 34 goals for the U.S. National Team over 106 caps. Quick and rangy, he was predatory – an opportunistic striker with swagger and attitude. He lined up at all three World Cups in the 1990s and was a poster boy for that formative period in the American game.

His coaching career so far has blossomed, perhaps predictably, in the wild and unregulated spaces of the Open Cup. It’s a competition where you lose and you’re out. It’s built to be dramatic, with no draws tolerated. It’s a purist’s dream and a romantic’s delight. Wynalda, who scored the first goal in Major League Soccer’s history, never won the Open Cup as a player, but he went to a semi-final with Chicago Fire and was a runner-up with the now-defunct Miami Fusion.

Magic moments
As head coach of Cal FC in 2012, he assembled and guided his amateur side to the Fourth Round of the Open Cup. He remembers fondly one Richard Menjivar, now with NASL glamor side New York Cosmos and capped dozens of times for El Salvador. “He was just a kid in a t-shirt and old jeans who was pretty good on the ball,” Wynalda said. “And he took his chance with Cal FC with both hands.” For Wynalda, that success, which included wins over professional sides Wilmington Hammerheads (USL) and Portland Timbers (MLS), wasn’t about the broad strokes of a team “punching above their weight,” a phrase he thinks is more about marketing than soccer. “They strove to do something wonderful,” he said. “To have a day, a moment in time, that belonged only to them.”

Two years later, in 2014 with Atlanta Silverbacks, Wynalda pulled off a pair of wins over MLS teams Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids before losing in the quarter-finals to four-time champions Chicago Fire. Jaime Chavez and Kwadwo Poku were in Wynalda’s team for that wild ride and now both are cashing big paychecks with NASL giants Miami FC. “I wouldn’t trade the sound of that locker-room after we beat the Rapids for anything in the world,” said Wynalda, speaking slowly and with genuine emotion.

 

Wynalda admits his young LA Wolves don’t fully understand the power of the Open Cup and its charged moments. But they’re getting there, with two wins under their belts – the last at 1-0 squeaker against Chula Vista FC in which Wynalda took a tactical gamble that some of his own players questioned the sanity of. But he insists he won’t rest until they get it, until his players understand what it all means. After their 4-2 win over fellow amateurs San Diego Zest, he told his players to hold hands and go salute the crowd. “They looked at me like I was crazy. There were maybe 100 people there,” he said, a chuckle in his voice. “They were wondering, ‘why are we doing this?’ And my answer is: this is just the beginning. The crowds will grow if you keep going.”

What Wynalda wants most is his Wolves to “force themselves into the conversation,” like Menijvar and Chavez and Poku did before. Like Wynalda did himself so many times and on so many fields. “A day in the Open Cup can change your life,” he said. “Good things will happen if they honor the moment and live up to it. They have nothing to lose at all.”

Orange County, Galaxy on the horizon
Up next for Wynalda’s Wolves is a date with a full professional side – Orange County SC of the United Soccer League (USL). “I saw Logan Pause (former Chicago Fire star and current Orange County coach) hiding under a hat scouting us and I’ve been scouting his team too.” The part of Wynalda that’s a salesman and the part of him that’s a romantic are all tangled up and abuzz about the game and the chance to buck the system once again. “I know it’s not on TV and you don’t get a whole lot of coverage. It’s not in a big stadium,” he said. “You can’t get beer and a hot dog without leaving your seat, but pack a sandwich and get out there because you don’t want to miss this.”

The game will be a third straight at home for LA Wolves on their large field with a perfect natural grass – a circumstance Wynalda insists on. It’s a sticking point for him. “It’s like there’s no grass left anywhere anymore, especially down below the top levels.”

 

Wynalda laughs when asked what he likes better – commenting for FS1 and SiriusXM on the Real Madrids of the world or shouting from the touchline in front of a handful of fans in the Open Cup.  “People say to me, ‘that’s so much pressure talking in front of millions of people,’ but to me it’s easy. There’s more pressure in those few seconds in front of a player who’s looking to you for answers. If Real Madrid lose, that’s someone else’s ass. But here, with these players in these moments, I’m accountable.”

It’s almost game-time again for Wynalda. He’s hoping for the moments to break his Wolves’ way. A win would see them on to a date with the vaunted LA Galaxy. It would be a moment heavy with opportunity and all the things he loves – romance, upsets, realizations, futures. “I love the process,” he said. There’s no bluster in his voice now. No attitude, just appreciation. “The moment when you know you’re part of something special – a play, a team, a game, anything.”

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U.S. Open Cup May 26, 2017

Lou City: Respect, Routs and the Open Cup Circle of Life

It’s hard to resist those Open Cup moments when little teams, with players working day-jobs, take a professional scalp. Considerably less romantic are those days when the little guy gets his head handed to him, like pub-club Tartan Devils Oak Avalon did in the Second Round. “They battled the whole way,” said James O’Connor, head coach of Louisville City FC, who didn’t take their foot off the gas until the score was 9-0 and the final whistle echoed into the Pittsburgh night. “We have nothing but respect for them.”

It might look a little like O’Connor and his Kentucky-based full pros of the United Soccer League (USL) are the heartless villains of the piece, but the respect he has for his opposition is real. Whether it’s Tartan Devils or FC Cincinnati, who they face in the Third Round on 31 May, or Columbus Crew, who awaits in the Fourth Round – that respect is clear as first light.

“It’s important to approach a game, any game no matter who or what level, the same way. That’s how you show a team and the Cup respect.” said the coach, who hails from Bray in Ireland’s County Wicklow. Still only 37, he had a long playing career just out of reach of the top tier in England. O’Connor knows something about being an underdog, of not quite getting to the top. “You play them the same way – pub team or MLS team,” he insisted. “That’s what it is to be a professional and that’s what we did.”

 

Burly midfielder Sean Totsch agrees with his boss, pausing before answering questions about the 9-0 scoreline, which some saw as unseemly, maybe overkill. “This is our job,” said the former Northern Illinois Huskie. “We have professional pride and are professional in the way we do things. Believe me, it looks a lot worse if you take your foot off the gas and stop scoring. That’s an insult.

“It’s nothing personal,” added the 25-year-old Totsch, 6-foot-2 and formerly of fellow USL side Rochester Rhinos. He scored the fifth in a game in which Louisville got their nine unanswered goals from eight different players. “We shook hands after the game and we have nothing but respect for the Tartan Devils and what they’re doing.”

FA Cup to Open Cup
Coach O’Connor came to the States from England in 2012 to play for fledgling Orlando City and help the Florida club in their rise to Major League Soccer. His frame of reference for the Open Cup is its forebearer from across the Atlantic. It was in the FA Cup – where he lined up 22 times for four different clubs – that O’Connor got a glimpse at the pinnacle of the game. He even had an unusual brush with a legend.

“I was just a young guy and suddenly I’m playing against Paul Gascoigne,” said O’Connor of the time when, with Stoke City in the Third Round of the 2001-2 FA Cup, he took the field with the unenviable task of keeping Gazza from the danger zones. “And you won’t believe it, here I am trying to do my job and up against one of the greats and he starts giving me advice on the field. He’s saying little things like follow your passdon’t just watch it. It was good-natured and he was just trying to help a guy starting out. He took that moment to coach me and I never forgot it.” 


O’Connor, in many ways, is the perfect coach for a side in the second tier of the American game. Having had stints with Stoke, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday, he knows the challenges of being a pro without the spotlight or idolatry that goes with the likes of the Premier League. “I got promoted once to the Prem with West Brom,” he said, a wry edge to his voice. “I was on the bench for a few games, but it wasn’t long before I got sent back down on loan.”

He’s only a few years on from his playing days and was still putting his own name on the roster in his first year with Louisville in 2015. “It’s hard,” he admits, accent still thick with the eastern coast of Ireland. “My playing days are over, but there are moments, like when we were playing Tartan Devils, where I think: I can get a game here!”

O’Connor still gets a little too involved in play during training. He admits as much. Old habits die hard, as they say, and instincts never fade. “I always want to get on the ball,” he said. “I still want to play. It’s the natural impulse.”

Tables turn fast in Open Cup
Totsch, who plays the very holding midfield role O’Connor once did, responds to his coach’s passion for the game and the Open Cup. “He’s a really intense and passionate guy,” he said about his coach. “Nothing ever comes before the group. That’s the atmosphere he creates and it inspires you to work for your teammates and be unselfish.”

Circumstances will be dramatically different for Louisville in their next Open Cup outing. They’re up against FC Cincinnati, local rivals from their own league. They’ll be picking on someone their own size, so to speak, and you can bet it won’t be a nine-goal blowout. The match is likely to be testy considering the last time the two met a brawl was barely averted and Cincinnati’s Djiby Fall was suspended for five games after biting Lou City’s Niall McCabe. “Fiery,” is the word Totsch used to describe the likely atmosphere at Nippert Stadium in Ohio next week.

 

If Louisville can stand the heat and manage a win, the tables will turn in their Open Cup journey. They will become the underdog, up against 2002 champions Columbus Crew. “That’s the beauty of the Open Cup,” said O’Connor. “What the Tartan Devils did to get on the field with us was amazing and now we have the chance to go and put ourselves in the position they were in – we can try and show a bigger team what we’re about and do our damndest to get a result.”

They could also get hammered on the day. But if they’re true to their word, and prepare for every game the same way, there’s no reason Louisville City can’t go on a long run in this Open Cup. “It’s all a kind of circle,” said Totsch, as earnest off the pitch as he is imposing on it. “Playing against an MLS team is the kind of thing you dream about – that’s where we want to be – the games you live for.”

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U.S. Open Cup May 26, 2017

#USOC2017 Dreamers One Step From MLS Reckoning

Two rounds of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are in the books and nerves are set to jangle on the eve of the Third Round (May 30-31). All 26 teams in action, full amateurs and second-tier pros from the United Soccer League (USL) and North American Soccer League (NASL), are just one win away from a date with the top teams in the land, the big-boys of Major League Soccer (MLS) who wait like penned bulls snorting and kicking at the steel gates.

PART-TIMERS WITH BIG-DREAMS
Michigan Bucks
, the Premier Development Leaguers (PDL) out of Pontiac, have a history of pulling upsets in the Open Cup. Their heroics include 10 wins over professional clubs, including MLS outfits New England Revolution and Chicago Fire. Coach Demir Muftari is looking forward to a third-straight home game at the indoor arena he says has “a special kind of energy.” The well-drilled and wildly talented Bucks have history and home-field advantage working for them and fancy their chances against full-time USL pros St. Louis FC, with four-time Open Cup champs Chicago Fire waiting in the wings for the winner.

Christos FC, out of Baltimore, are the 2017 Open Cup’s biggest smile so far. The side doesn’t train, their headquarters and Hall of Fame are housed in a family owned Discount Liquor Store on the outskirts of the city, complete with make-shift bar in the back. These homegrown men’s leaguers are rich with local talent and brimming with swagger and attitude. Their upset of 1995 Open Cup champions Richmond Kickers is the shock of the competition to date and one more “cupset” against Chicago FC United – fellow amateurs who upset Pittsburgh Riverhounds – would book Christos a date with D.C. United. “We don’t want this dream to end now,” said Jody Haislip, club founder, GM and all-around big brother.

Reading United AC are giving Christos a run for their money as darlings of the 2017 Cup. The PDL side, loaded with players 17 to 20 years-old from all over the world, looked to be in for a long day when they went down 1-0 early to NASL glamor side New York Cosmos. But they roared back, too young or too determined to know they were beat, scoring three goals in a six-minute stretch that coach Stephen Hogan called “extreme ruthlessness.” In the end, the Pennsylvania-based youngsters were worthy of the famous 3-2 win that sees them now set to face Harrisburg City Islanders of USL. It’s another big day for the boys, with Philadelphia Union of MLS waiting for the winner.

In among the roll call of surprise amateurs is GPS Omens of Massachusetts. The Boston-based side doesn’t train much, and haven’t beaten a professional team yet. But 1999 champions Rochester Rhinos of the USL will do well not to take the boys from the Bay State Soccer League (BSSL) lightly. 33-year-old striker Keith Caldwell has two goals so far and a win in Upstate New York for this cooler-toting pub-team would set-up a family reunion with younger brother Scott, a well-paid pro with local MLS outfit New England Revolution.

PROS ON PROS
There’s a South Florida battle royal brewing in Miami where hometown heroes Miami FC, top of the NASL standings and coached by former World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta, play hosts to USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, captained by three-time FA Cup winner Joe Cole. Both are quality professional sides with history and clout, but only one can win the day and move on to meet purple-clad Orlando City SC of MLS.

Jacksonville Armada of NASL take on USL heavyweights Charleston Battery, who were the last non-MLS team to reach the final of the Open Cup back in 2008 and looked impressive in their opening win over Atlanta Silverbacks. The winner books a game against Open Cup newcomers Atlanta United of MLS.

 

North Carolina FC of NASL host Charlotte Independence (USL) while the Tulsa Roughnecks and San Antonio FC, both of USL, lock horns down south in what promises to be a rough-and-tumble affair.

Louisville City FC of USL were the biggest winners of Round Two. They beat the holy life out pub-club Tartan Devils Oak Avalon of Pittsburgh by the unseemly scoreline of 9-0. “It looks even worse if you let up and don’t score when you can,” said defender Sean Totsch who picked up the side’s fifth on that day. “We’re pros and we need to treat every team with respect. It’s the only way to respect the competition.” Now they have a chance to take on someone their own size in division rivals FC Cincinnati. There’s history and bad blood between these teams, so expect fireworks en route to finding out who’ll still be standing to face 2002 Open Cup winners Columbus Crew SC.

WILD, WILD WEST
In the late games of the round, USL sides Colorado Springs Switchbacks take on OKC Energy FC, while San Francisco Deltas travel to star-studded Phoenix Rising. Former Mexico international Omar Bravo came on for a cameo in the last round for the ambitious Arizona club and maybe, just maybe, the Open Cup will see its first glimpse of UEFA Champions League and EPL legend Didier Drogba on Wednesday.  

Sacramento Republic had little trouble in the Second Round with a 4-0 win over amateurs Anahuac FC, but they will be in for a far sterner test in the Third when they meet fellow USL outfit Reno 1868, who needed penalties after 120 minutes with amateurs OSA FC to avoid an early exit. The winner gets a shot at MLS’s Real Salt Lake.


Rounding out the 13 matches is another home game for amateur LA Wolves on their huge grass pitch in Azusa, California. High-profile coach Eric Wynalda, who’s had success in the Open Cup with Atlanta Silverbacks and Cal FC, is dreaming big. “The Open Cup is about the most American of things: Opportunity.” If his Wolves take theirs on the night against USL’s Orange County SC, they’ll get another in the form of two-time Open Cup winners and MLS royalty LA Galaxy. 

Third Round action kicks off on Tuesday May 30 with Michigan Bucks hosting St. Louis FC. The 12 remaining games come the next day, Wednesday May 31. You can follow all the action on ussoccer.com’s LIVE STREAM, Twitter and Instagram. The Fourth Round, and the entrance of 19 Major League Soccer sides, is scheduled for June 13 and 14.

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U.S. Open Cup May 26, 2017

The Great Eight Rd. II: Cupsets, Blowouts and Day Jobs at #USOC2017

Fans of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup live by its magic moments. And the Second Round of the competition, now in its 104th year, tossed up a good few of those between May 16 and 17. Join ussoccer.com for a look back at eight moments of note in the 26 games of the Second Round, where giants tumbled, mice roared and history was made.

Four Cinderellas
Second-Round upsets are what we all wait for and what the Open Cup, like a generous benefactor, always provides. Amateur sides Michigan Bucks, Chicago FC United, Reading United AC and Christos FC, who have their club headquarters in a liquor store on the outskirts of Baltimore, knocked off full professionals and are all now one win away from a date with the big boys of Major League Soccer in the Fourth Round.

Christos’ crisis
The Baltimore men’s 1-0 win over Richmond Kickers of the United Soccer League (USL) was among the biggest upsets in recent years. “We hardly ever have the same starting XI two weeks in a row,” midfielder Daniel Baxter said. “Some guys work weekends and others weekdays. A lot of us work nights and others work evenings or mornings,” added Baxter, an X-Ray Tech, a radiologist to be more precise, who admits to seeing “crazy stuff” on the night shift at Mercy Hospital. Baxter was all over the pitch in Richmond, a buzzing speedy dynamo, better on the day than the ones paid to play.  

Battery’s Cuban brigade
Charleston Battery, out of South Carolina, are one of the oldest continually operating pro soccer clubs in America. Playing in the old A-League when it was the top-flight, they’ve spent the vast majority of their 23 years just below MLS in the USL. They’re a club always on the lookout for talent, and good bargains. They got a package deal in 2013 when three Cubans, Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, midfielder Maikel Chang and striker Heviel Cordoves, defected while on international duty in Canada. They now bring a little Latin flair to a side that made light work of the Atlanta Silverbacks in the Second Round. The Battery face Jacksonville Armada of the NASL in the Third Round in hopes of replicating their Open Cup run of 1998, where they went to the final.

 

Omens work hard, play hard & play hard
“We’re from the white-collar professional world of Boston,” GPS Omens captain Greg Zuboff told ussoccer.com recently about his amateur men’s league side, who’ve won twice in the 2017 Open Cup to set up a Third Round date in Rochester against the 1999 champion Rhinos. White-collar jobs often require travel and striker Keith Caldwell, top scorer last season in the local Bay State Soccer League (BSL), had a window of approximately one hour to get off his plane from Atlanta, through East Boston in rush-hour traffic and over to Revere’s Harry Della Russo Stadium for the Second Round Game with PDL outfit Boston City FC. He arrived just in time to score and make his mom, who watched up in the stands, a proud parent. It was his second goal of the tournament and Caldwell is now one win away from playing his younger brother, Scott Caldwell of the New England Revolution, in a Fourth Round game that might prove tricky for mom. One thing is certain: GPS Omens earned the tequila shots and beers they downed after beating BCFC 2-1. Here’s hoping they all made it to work in the morning!

What’s the opposite of a Cupset?
Louisville City FC of United Soccer League (USL) were in no mood for the romance of the Open Cup. They traveled to Pittsburgh and put a hammering on self-proclaimed “hard-nosed pub-side” Tartan Devils Oak Avalon. It was 9-0 at the end, a performance coach James O’Connor, an Irishman who scored 22 goals in England’s FA Cup, called “very professional.” That’s one way to put it. And in perfect response from the local amateurs, an official club tweet went out: “Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug.” Even in heavy, heavy defeat, the Tartan Devils and their fans had a ripping good time after the final whistle at Pipers Pub, where the club was formed – around a table, over beers and among friends – in 2008.

Rowdies get going early
Tampa Bay Rowdies, once of NASL and now of USL, had to wait only three minutes for their first 2017 Open Cup goal. But it wasn’t without controversy and forceful protests from the Jacksonville Armada U-23 back-line. Canadian international winger Kyle Porter – the Pride of Mississauga – had no options out wide on the line and about ten yards across the midfield stripe. He was stranded. Why not go for goal, the voice that whispers silly things whispered in his ear. So he did. Armada goalkeeper Juanes Fajardo looked to have kept it out after back-pedaling hard, but the officials at Al Lang Stadium – once a baseball park that hosted MLB Spring Training games – disagreed. Frankly, no one was in a very good position to confirm or dispute the call. And, sadly, goal-line technology has yet to arrive in the Open Cup’s early rounds.

Goals in bunches 
Some Cup games drag on and on. Nothing happens. The players cancel each other out and settle into a comfortable barrenness. Penalties hover like vultures and you know, just know in your heart, no goals will come. But sometimes, they fall from the sky like summer rain. That happened in North Carolina when Ryan Williams and Kelvin Omondi scored twice in two minutes for Charlotte Eagles, with virtually the identical move. And in Oklahoma City, OKC Energy lived up to their name with four goals in five minutes  – Alex Dixon, Wojciech Wojcik, Andy Craven and Miguel Gonzalez all hit the mark in a great big hurry. In all, we can have no complaints. 100 goals were scored in 26 Second Round games, with only one finishing 0-0 before getting settled on penalties. 

 

Bucks got it on the inside
The atmosphere at a Michigan Bucks games is peculiar. No birds chirp. No 16-wheelers rattle past, jostling their cargos. There are no train whistles or car horns. The amateur Bucks, of Pontiac Michigan, who have a date with Saint Louis FC after beating NASL side Indy Eleven, have played both of their games so far at home in a large indoor facility, Ultimate Soccer Arenas. One of the largest fully enclosed full-size soccer arenas in America, the facility famously played host to the amateur side’s 3-2 upset of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire in the Third Round of the 2012 tournament and has continued to provide the perennial PDL power with an interesting home-field advantage.

Cupsets go both ways
The big fat Cupsets we know and love aren’t only about the winner. Who you beat in a Cupset is a crucial factor in the underdog-bites-back equation. So here, with heavy heart, we list the Cupset losers from the 2017 Open Cup’s Second Round. New York Cosmos, three-time Soccer Bowl winners in the latest iteration of the NASL – the club where Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto brought the world’s game to an indifferent nation, lost 3-2 to Reading United – a team of teenage amateurs. Christos FC beat USL’s Richmond Kickers, who have been operating as a professional club for the last 24 years and won the Open Cup in 1995. Michigan Bucks beat Indy Eleven, who finished second in last year’s NASL table. And not to be outdone, Chicago FC United – local amateurs from in and around the Windy City – knocked out Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who didn’t do much of note last year but all get paid to play the game.    

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U.S. Open Cup May 19, 2017
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