As a result of a blind draw conducted by U.S. Soccer on August 17, #13 Charleston Battery will host the #1-ranked Colorado Rapids of MLS in the first match of the doubleheader at 6:00 p.m. (ET), while the A-League's Rochester Raging Rhinos will attempt to upset their third MLS team on the road to the title when they face 1998 Open Cup runner up Columbus Crew in the nightcap at 8:30 p.m. Although neither of the semifinal games will be nationally televised, fans can hear live broadcasts of the both games via the Internet at www.charlestonbattery.com and www.thecrew.com, respectively.
Coming off impressive Open Cup victories against #3 D.C. United (a 4-3 overtime comeback win) and the #11 Staten Island Vipers and back-to-back A-League wins, the Charleston Battery are on a roll. Meanwhile, the Rapids represent just the opposite, having lost three of their last five games in MLS play and sneaking into the semifinals with a pair of close 1-0 Open Cup victories.
Rochester, the highest ranked A-League team at #9, is even hotter than their A-League counter-parts. The Rhinos lead the A-League with a remarkable 21-5 record and would love to add the Crew to their list of felled MLS teams (Dallas and Chicago being the other two). However, the Crew have dual determination after losing in sudden death overtime of the 1998 Open Cup final, and knowing they have a chance to be played in front of a home crowd at the newly-built Columbus Crew stadium in the 1999 U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday, Sept. 14.
Although MLS holds a 20-8 advantage over the A-League in the Open Cup over the last four years, the upstarts from the A-League have turned the tables this year, winning four of the seven games. On Wednesday, the Battery and Rhinos will be looking to claim their next MLS victims, while the Rapids and Crew will undoubtedly be fighting to uphold the MLS name.
Tickets for the semifinals, which are priced at $10 (bench), $12 (lower prime), $15 (upper prime) and $20 (club), are available through the Hampton Roads Mariners at 757/430-8873 or TicketMaster at 757/671-8100. The 6,000-seat Virginia Beach SportsPlex, which hosts the A-League's Hampton Roads Mariners, was completed in July 1998 and stands as one of the first stadiums in the country that was built specifically for soccer.
A team-by-team preview, along with all-time A-League vs. MLS Open Cup results, are listed on the following pages. The semifinal schedule, with kickoff times, is listed below:
|Date||The Match-Ups - Virginia Beach SportsPlex (Virginia Beach, Va.)||Kickoff|
|Sept. 1||#1 Colorado Rapids (MLS) at #13 Charleston Battery (A-League)||6:00 p.m. ET|
|Sept. 1||#4 Columbus Crew (MLS) at #9 Rochester Rhinos (A-League)||8:30 p.m. ET|
GAME ONE PREVIEW
COLORADO RAPIDS (MLS)
League Record: 16-8 (1st Place; Western Conference)
Head Coach: Glenn "Mooch" Myernick
Key Players: F-Jorge Dely Valdes (9 goals, 6 assists), F-Wolde Harris (8 g, 8 a), M/F-Paul Bravo (7 g, 4 a), M- Ross Paule (3 g, 9 a), D-Marcelo Balboa (0 g, 2 a)
"The Inside Scoop": Although currently sitting atop the Western Conference with a 16-8 record, the Rapids are in the midst of a bit of a slump. Colorado has lost three of its last five games, scoring just one goal in that span. With the addition of scoring sensation Valdes this season and fellow frontrunner Harris, the Rapids have clawed their way past the Burn and Fire into the much-coveted first place spot, but have fallen off of late. Balboa, Bravo, Paule and first-year Rapid Matt McKeon have all earned call-ups to the U.S. National Team on the strength of their play this year. Former New England Revolution 'keeper Ian Feuer has shown he is a capable replacement for the recently departed Marcus Hahnemann between the pipes.
Open Cup History: Have a 4-2 all-time Open Cup record...This is their second appearance in the semifinals in four years, having advanced to the semi's in 1996 before falling 3-1 to the Rochester Raging Rhinos...Lost in the third round to the D3 Pro League's Chicago Stingers in 1997...Did not qualify for the Open Cup in 1998...Much like their recent MLS games, the Rapids had to squeak out two close 1-0 wins against the Sounders (on a bomb from defender Matt McKeon) and then Mutiny (on a 90th minute header by Jorge Dely Valdes).
|Aug. 13||#1 Colorado Rapids (MLS) at #6 Tampa Bay Mutiny (MLS)||1-0, Colorado|
|Sept. 1||#14 Seattle Sounders (A-League) at #1 Colorado Rapids (MLS)||1-0, Colorado|
CHARLESTON BATTERY (A-League)
League Record: 14-12 (3rd Place; Atlantic Division)
Head Coach: Alan Dicks
Key Players: F-Paul Conway (13 g, 5 a), F-Mike Burke (6 g, 6 a), M-Ivailo Iliarionov (6 g, 4 a), D-John Limniatis (0 g, 1 a), GK-Dusty Hudock (1.06 GAA)
"The Inside Scoop": The Charleston Battery have had an up-and-down 1999 season, with the highs including huge Open Cup wins over D.C. United and Staten Island, and the lows including back-to-back losses to division rival Atlanta Silverbacks. The Battery are currently holding their own in the tight Atlantic Division, where they're idling in third place with a 14-12 record and should sneak into the playoffs for the second straight season. Conway and '98 A-League Rookie of the Year Burke pose a dangerous threat up front, with perennial A-League All-Stars Limniatis and Hudock, a former Colorado Rapid, anchoring the defense.
Open Cup History: Shocked the soccer world with their dramatic 4-3 overtime comeback victory against '96 Open Cup champion D.C. United...Went on to beat much-improved Staten Island team to advance to semi's.
|Aug. 18||#11 Staten Island Vipers (A-League) at #13 Charleston Battery (A-League)||2-1, Charleston|
|Aug. 4||#3 D.C. United (MLS) at #13 Charleston Battery (A-League)||4-3 OT, Charleston|
|July 6||#17 Wilmington Hammerheads (D3 Pro) at #13 Charleston Battery (A-League)||2-1, Charleston|
GAME TWO PREVIEW
COLUMBUS CREW (MLS)
League Record: 15-10 (2nd Place; Eastern Conference)
Head Coach: Tom Fitzgerald
Key Players: F-Stern John (16 g, 2 a), M/F-Jeff Cunningham (8 g, 5 a), F-Brian McBride (2 g, 9 a); M-Robert Warzycha (2 g, 9 a); GK-Mark Dougherty (1.14 GAA)
"The Inside Scoop": The Crew have two monkeys on their back that they can't wait to fight off. The first one is D.C. United, who they seem to always trail in the Eastern Conference standings despite posting a solid 15-10 record this year in MLS. After a slow start, John is tied for the MLS lead in goals with 16 goals on the year, while McBride remains a force in the air up front and Cunningham has provided a spark off the bench. Defenders Lapper and Clark have anchored the Crew defense, with Dougherty providing instruction from the back. The Crew will be without the services of midfielder Brian Maissonueve (2 g, 8 a), who received a red card in the last Open Cup game. The second burden for the Crew involves the Open Cup. After falling in a heartbreaker to the Fire in last year's final, the Crew are motivated to get back in that position and redeem themselves, especially since this year's final will be played in their backyard.
Open Cup History: Have a 5-1 all-time Open Cup record...Did not compete in the '96 or '97 tourneys...Lost 2-1 in overtime to the Chicago Fire in the 1998 championship game at Soldier Field...Defeated Rochester, Miami and NY/NJ on the way to the title game...Scored six goals in two easy victories to advance to this year's semifinals.
|Aug. 11||#4 Columbus Crew (MLS) at #6 Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)||3-1, Columbus|
|July 13||#24 Carolina Dynamo (D3 Pro) at #4 Columbus Crew (MLS)||3-0, Columbus|
ROCHESTER RAGING RHINOS (A-League)
League Record: 21-5 (1st Place; Northeast Division)
Head Coach: Pat Ercoli
Key Players: M/F-Mauro Biello (7 g, 4 a), F-Doug Miller (6 g, 4 a), F-Darren Tilley (5 g, 5 a), D-Scott Schweitzer (1 g, 1 a), GK-Pat Onstad (0.64 GAA)
"The Inside Scoop": The rich keep getting richer in the A-League, as the Rhinos continue to be the class of the Division II ranks. The defending A-League champs, who went largely unchallenged while posting a remarkable 24-4 record and breaking numerous A-League records last year, might have actually improved. To nobody's surprise, the Rhinos are back in first where they belong with a familiar-looking 21-5 record in '99. The key to the Rhinos' success is consistency in its personnel, with All-Star midfielder Biello the only new face from last year's championship team. Teamed with Tilley, along with veterans Miller, Yari Allnutt and Tommy Tanner, the Rhinos are a scoring machine. But they're also one of the toughest defensive teams around, with the spirited Schweitzer on the backline and human wall Onstad in goal. Rochester will be out for revenge against the Crew, their MLS affiliate who defeated them earlier this year in an exhibition and in last year's tournament, as well.
Open Cup History: Have a 8-3 Open Cup record since 1996...Upset Tampa Bay and Colorado on their way to the '96 Open Cup Final, which they lost 3-0 to MLS Cup champions D.C. United...Lost to Tampa Bay in the third round in 1997...Lost to Columbus in the third round in 1998...Beat defending Open Cup and MLS champion Chicago Fire and the Dallas Burn in two intense, rough-and-tumble matches to advance to the semi's.
|Aug. 11||#5 Dallas Burn (MLS) at #9 Rochester Rhinos (A-League)||2-1 (2OT), Rochester|
|July 14||#2 Chicago Fire (MLS) at #9 Rochester Rhinos (A-League)||1-0, Rochester|
|June 30||#26 New York Freedom at #9 Rochester Rhinos (A-League)||2-1 OT, Rochester|