U.S. Soccer

The Great Eight Semifinal Edition: Dream-Killers, Respects & Sunsets

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is known for its magic moments. And the Semifinal round of the competition, now in its 104th year, tossed up a good few of those with a pair of memorable games on August 9 and 15. Take a look back at eight moments of note where Sporting Kansas City and New York Red Bulls rose to see off spirited challenges from San Jose’s Earthquakes and Cinderella second-division dreamers FC Cincinnati.
Keepers’ Duel in Kansas City
San Jose arrived in KC with a simple game plan. Maybe too simple. Plant a man up front, park five across the back and hope for the best. The fact that they survived 120 minutes of play to force penalties after a 1-1 draw was down more to the heroics of Andrew Tarbell than anything drawn up on the tactics board. The Louisiana-born ‘keeper, still just 23, might have been on a trampoline for all the bouncing around he did between the posts. He registered 11 saves and a fair few of those required him to go full-Stretch Armstrong. But when the shootout rolled around, his opposite number stole the show. Tim Melia, the Long Island native who took a hard road to MLS, added two more to the pair of saves he made in regulation and extra-time to win the battle of net-minders and send SKC to their second Open Cup Final in three years. In all, Melia’s only conceded one goal in four Cup games this year. Those are the kind of numbers that lead to trophies.

Hoesen Sends a Message
That one lonely goal Melia’s conceded in nearly 400 minutes of Open Cup play came from the right foot of San Jose’s elegant Dutchman, Danny Hoesen. The lone striker on the night for the Quakes, he raced deep into the host’s defensive third with just four minutes gone. Hoesen outpaced Ike Opara, a tall order for any attacker in Major League Soccer, before coaxing the defender back toward him and turning inside to unleash a low drive from 20 yards. Having honed his talents with two seasons at fabled Amsterdam club Ajax, Hoesen has announced himself in this Open Cup as a rare talent on American shores. Among his three goals in the competition was a brash effort against Seattle Sounders where he took on three defenders and the ‘keeper in a stretch of penalty area the size of a postage stamp.

18-Pass Party Piece
Down a goal but bossing the game, Sporting Kansas City needed something special to beat San Jose’s inspired Tarbell. They found it, and how, with one of the best team goals you’ll ever see. The ball was glued to the home side’s feet and moved all the way up the field and across it, from right to left. Every SKC player (save Melia in goal) touched the ball before Jimmy Medranda beat his man at the edge of the area and crossed low for Diego Rubio to poke home. You can count them. 18 passes from defense to goal. From start to finish. It’s an Open Cup classic and one to remember. 

 

Homegrown Berry Buries One
The other Semifinal pit everyone’s favorite Cinderellas from the Queen City, FC Cincinnati of USL, against New York Red Bulls. And while every member of FCC’s squad (be they from Sydney, Australia or London, England) have been happily adopted by the citizens of the plucky city in Southern Ohio – Austin Berry was born and raised there. “It’s not every day as an athlete that you get to play in your home town, in front of your cousins and old friends up in the stands,” he told ussoccer.com. It was fitting that he scored to make it 2-0 against the visitors from up north. The goal was suited to his no-nonsense approach and the signature style of Cincinnati’s barnstorming soccer revolution. Berry moved like a late-running freight train on a straightaway. He rose at the far post and thundered his header past Ryan Meara to a deafening roar from the 33,225-strong home crowd. With just 15 minutes to go and up 2-0 it was the goal that would take FC Cincinnati to an historic Final, right? Well, not quite…

BWP – the Mark of the Best
Even FC Cincinnati’s all-in-it-together defense was going to have a hard time dealing with Bradley Wright-Phillips. The English-born son of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, he’s the kind of striker that kills dreams and romantic Cup runs with a flick of his forehead. And kill he did, with a pair of goals – one to tie it with 12 minutes to go in regulation and one in extra-time to win it. He even managed to slam another header off the underside of the crossbar for good measure. Wright-Phillips now has three goals in his last two Open Cup games – two of them match-winners. He was the difference on this day and soccer fans in Cincinnati will never forget him. Neither will New York Red Bulls fans, and he jumped into the open arms of the few dozen who made the trip to Nippert Stadium after nailing FCC’s coffins shut.

 

Class in Session After Final Whistle
It’s tough to lose a Semifinal. So close. One step away. You see tears in the Last Four. It’s when hearts are broken. But you see class too. Respect. Sporting Kansas City’s players roared off the midfield stripe to mob their 'keeper Melia after he saved the decisive spot-kick to book a place in the Final. But one man in baby blue peeled off from the crowd. Roger Espinoza, battling midfielder and sometimes captain, stopped short and put his arms around Victor Bernardez, his teammate for Honduras who couldn’t find the net when it counted most. And over in Ohio, Wright-Phillips – the goal predator – made a point to hunt down FC Cincinnati’s coach Alan Koch after the final whistle just to tell him how “amazing” his team was and how hard a fight he had to undo them. And as the Nippert crowd thinned out, Red Bulls players saluted FC Cincinnati fans (who saluted them back) and Red Bulls fans chanted F-C-C. That’s your Open Cup, right there. And it’s rare.

Tears for Souvenirs
While Wright-Phillips was the man for the Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati’s ace in attack had to watch from the stands in street clothes. A foolish yellow card late in the Quarterfinal win over Miami FC meant Senegalese hit-man Djiby Fall missed the Semifinal with suspension. His absence was made all the more apparent when fans unfurled a tifo pre-kickoff with the dreadlocked forward sitting on the Iron Throne made famous in TV’s Game of Thrones. Under it read the words: Djiby Sends His Regards. His four goals, including a winner against Columbus Crew, were crucial in FCC’s magical run to the Semifinal, but all he had to offer on the biggest of nights was tears and hugs and commiseration after the final whistle. One wonders what might have been were he laced up and kitted out – in the game instead of the stands where the sun set purple over FC Cincinnati’s Open Cup dream.  

 

And Then There Were Two
FC Cincinnati captured the imagination with their run to the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal. They stole hearts too. A Division II side, hardly two-years old, went on a tear that we’ll all talk about for years to come. Their huge crowds brought color and style to the competition and their wins over Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew will linger in the memory and stack right up there with the Open Cup’s best upsets. San Jose did their part too, playing with style and verve – a commitment to keeping the ball – not often seen in the rough-and-tumble of Cup competition. But now the two teams that did the most are left standing. Only the Final remains between three-time Open Cup champs Sporting Kansas City and the silverware hunting New York Red Bulls. One of these two big dogs will claim a crown that, at one point, seemed destined to end up with the underdogs. 

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U.S. Open Cup Aug 16, 2017

New York Red Bulls Storm Back for 3-2 Extra-Time Win to Reach 2017 U.S. Open Cup Final as Midnight Strikes for Cinderellas FC Cincinnati

CINCINNATI (Aug. 15, 2017) – It looked like FC Cincinnati were home and dry at 2-0 up and heading for an historic Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, only for New York Red Bulls to hit back late and eventually spoil the party. The visitors from Major League Soccer finished the job 3-2 in extra-time with Bradley Wright-Phillips heading home his second of the night to send the New Jersey-based club through to its second Open Cup Final since their founding (as the MetroStars) in 1996.

The New York Red Bulls will meet three-time Open Cup champs Sporting Kansas City, who dispatched San Jose Earthquakes 5-4 on PKs in last Wednesday’s opening Semifinal, in the Final on Sept. 20, a game that will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. It will be the Red Bulls’ first appearance in an Open Cup Final since 2003 when, led by top-scorer Amado Guevara, they finished runners-up to Chicago Fire. Having never won MLS Cup, the 2017 Open Cup crown would be NYRB’s first piece of significant silverware. 

 

Nippert Stadium was in full voice at the start of hostilities and the opening exchanges were tense and physical, with the home side eager to stamp their mark on proceedings. The visiting Red Bulls had more of the possession early in the half, and Jamaican international Kemar Lawrence hit well over the bar with the first two shots of the game.

FC Cincinnati’s outstanding goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, a hero among heroes during the USL side’s 2017 Cup run, mopped up whatever came his way in the first period, though he had little to do despite the men from MLS controlling much of the play. At the other end, the first few forays forward for the home side came from Aodhan Quinn, who took a shot (a wild volley that went way over) and sent in a looping cross from a free-kick that tested Ryan Meara in the NYRB goal. 

Nippert Stadium nearly levitated on the half-hour mark. After a nifty break up the right side, the ball moved to the left where Cincinnati's Andrew Wiedeman lofted a deft cross into the penalty area. A cheeky chest pass from Danni Konig beat the lone remaining New York defender in the box as Corben Bone came steaming through to take a touch and hammer home with his right foot. It was the former Chicago Fire utility man’s first goal for the club in competitive play and the first goal scored by an FC Cincinnati player not named Djiby Fall, who sat out this game through suspension, in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup.

 

The next quarter-hour saw the Red Bulls keep up sustained pressure in the attacking third. Wright-Phillips, who scored the winner against New England Revolution in the Quarterfinal, had his first pair of half-chances in the contest. But neither came to anything in the end with wayward aim and Hildebrandt’s cool hands keeping the ball out. 

The second-half proved to be a thrilling 45 minutes of soccer - gripping from the start. After only six minutes, FC Cincinnati’s clever attacker Wiedeman raced forward all by his lonesome on a counter-attack. He managed to work a little space on the right side of the box, but his right-footed effort was well kept out by Meara. It was a hint of things to come and ten minutes later the home side were 2-0 up.  

FCC were trying to take full advantage of set-pieces and counter-attacks. And after 61 minutes, it was their homegrown hero – Cincinnati born and raised Austin Berry – who rose highest to make the score 2-0 in front of throngs of friends and family. The big defender stormed in at the back post to thunder his header past Meara and send Nippert Stadium into hysterics.

 

But while the fans were dreaming of a place in the Final next month, reality came back and hit them over the head. The professionalism of the visiting Red Bulls – and the style and panache of Sacha Kljestan in midfield – were too much to resist as the visitors had all the possession. And while they hadn’t conceded a goal in 585 minutes of Open Cup soccer up to that point, FC Cincinnati allowed two in the space of just three minutes to see the score settle at 2-2. 

Second-half substitute Gonzalo Veron took advantage of a scramble in the penalty area to hit home from close range in the 75th minute. The initial cross was a good one but the ball rebounded off Berry and fell invitingly for the Argentinian, who hit home from the doorstep while falling to the ground. In that moment, some of the air seemed to go out of the stadium and it wasn’t long before the silence of the 33,250 fans turned deafening.

Just two minutes after cutting the lead in half, The Red Bulls made it 2-2 through their always lethal marksman Wright-Phillips. The English-born striker guided a pinpoint header just between Hildebrandt and the post. It was another lovely cross from the right side and the striker, with three goals in two Open Cup games, hardly had to jump to get his head to the ball and draw level in the 77th minute.

 

Wright-Phillips had another golden chance to make it 3-2 on the stroke of full-time, but the potential dagger hit off the underside of the crossbar after he’d snuck in at the near post and nodded past Hildebrandt. Instead, the game went to extra-time where Wright-Phillips was on hand to turn the knife in FC Cincinnati’s ribs once more. Eleven minutes into the first-period he slipped another brilliant header home before diving into the small corner of the stadium reserved for traveling fans.

At 3-2 down and having conceded three unanswered goals, the home team refused to give up. Wiedeman soldiered on despite being hampered by cramps. Substitute Marco Dominguez had one more chance to draw level for FCC, but his effort from close-range was cleared by a fearless Tyler Adams, who sacrificed his body for the cause. The Red Bulls were worthy winners on the day as the 2017 U.S. Open Cup had to wave a fond goodbye to FC Cincinnati.

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U.S. Open Cup Aug 15, 2017

2017 U.S. Open Cup Final to be Broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes

CHICAGO (Aug. 15, 2017) – The Final of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer’s National Championship, will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on Sept. 20.

The match, which will be hosted by Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park, will be the second 2017 U.S. Open Cup game broadcast by the ESPN family of networks. The first was United Soccer League (USL) side FC Cincinnati’s shootout win vs. Major League Soccer (MLS) club Chicago Fire in the Round of 16 on June 28 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Sporting Kansas City will make its second U.S. Open Cup Final appearance in the space of three years. Kansas City won the Open Cup in 2015 in Chester, Pa., with a 7-6 shootout win against Philadelphia Union after the sides tied 1-1. Their opponent in the 2017 Final will be determined tonight when the New York Red Bulls (MLS) travel to Nippert Stadium to take on Division II Cinderellas, FC Cincinnati.

Of the three surviving teams in the competition, only Sporting Kansas City has won the U.S. Open Cup. They hoisted the silverware in 2004 (as the Kansas City Wizards), 2012 (winning the Final at home) and again in 2015. The Red Bulls have finished as runners-up once in 2003 (when they were still known as the MetroStars), while FC Cincinnati, in just their second year of existence, have made the furthest run by a non-Division I side since 2011 when the Richmond Kickers reached the Semifinal stage.

The 104th installment of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has had a little bit of everything. In addition to FC Cincinnati’s journey to the Semifinal, there was a fairytale run by Baltimore-based amateurs Christos FC, who beat USL outfit Richmond Kickers and eventually booked a Fourth Round date with MLS royalty D.C. United. The part-timers even managed to go up 1-0 on the men from the Nation’s Capital before capitulating 4-1.

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the United States and the world's third-longest-running open soccer tournament.

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U.S. Open Cup Aug 15, 2017
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