U.S. Soccer
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The Dream Continues: #USOC2018 3rd Round Preview

Nine surviving amateur teams from last week’s Second Round of the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are in action again this Tuesday and Wednesday (May 22 and 23) – and they’re all one win away from booking dates with clubs from Major League Soccer (MLS), the American game’s top professional tier. With a pair of the 12 Third Round matches being contested by two amateur sides, we’re guaranteed at least two games in the Fourth Round between MLS' big boys and part-timers from farther on down the trough.

Nine Survivors Hunt Glory & Cupsets
Ocean City Nor’easters, out of the Premier Development League, are back in the Third Round with their giant-killing reputation as strong as ever. They’re coached by former captain John Thompson, who’s been involved – on either side of the touchline – in five of the team’s six wins over pro clubs in their Open Cup history. “We put our heart and soul into this club,” said the former PDL Defender of the Year who got his tactics right in the last round against United Soccer League (USL) pros Charlotte Independence and is now one win away from seeing his Nor’easters up against MLS opposition for a third time. “Whether it’s Charlotte or Man United, you always need to back yourselves as players – you’ve got to believe you can man up and get it done.”

(Liam Bennett - left, in orange - of OC Nor'easters in First Round USOC action in Ann Arbor)

The Nor’easters will need to man up in a big way if they’re going to get the bulge on North Carolina FC of USL, who made light work of national amateur champions Lansdowne Bhoys in the last round. It’s the third game on the road for the boys from the Jersey Shore, who only just arrived at camp a few weeks ago from their various colleges.

Jacksonville Armada and Miami United FC are in action in an all-Florida/all-NPSL clash in the northeastern corner of the Sunshine State. The Armada, a part of the North American Soccer League in last year’s Open Cup, will fancy their chances against their neighbors to the south who knocked out 2017 Open Cup quarterfinalists Miami FC.

(Miami United FC laid down firm roots in South Florida - and they were simply better than Miami FC in the last round)

Elm City Express are rare entrants to the Open Cup from the city of New Haven in south central Connecticut. The first-year NPSL team (and reigning champs) are comprised of local talent from the area’s many institutes of higher learning – among them Post University in Waterbury, UConn, the University of Hartford, Central Connecticut, Southern Connecticut, Quinnipiac, and Sacred Heart. Though they’re likely to give it the old college try, they’ll need more than enthusiasm to get past a road date with Charleston Battery – the last non-MLS team to reach an Open Cup Final (2008). The Battery are loaded with talent and all full-pros, but they made heavy lifting of their 1-0 win over PDL side South Georgia Tormenta in the last round. The Third Round contest will be the Express’ first game in the current Open Cup against a professional side, having beaten Western Mass Pioneers and Seacoast United Phantoms (both of the PDL) in the previous rounds. It’s also a third away-game on the bounce for the boys from the Elm City.

Mississippi Brilla, an amateur team out of the PDL that doubles as a Christian ministry, were one of the big shockers of the Second Round. A team that draws talent from all over the world (39 different nationalities have worn Brilla baby-blue through the years) upended USL pros Indy Eleven with an 82nd-minute lone goal. This time they’re away from their home stadium and up against a second straight USL pro team in Nashville SC, who knocked out cross-town NPSL neighbors Inter Nashville FC last week.

(Nashville SC's fans are up for the Cup after beating city rivals Inter Nashville in the Second Round)

NTX Rayados and FC Wichita meet in an all-amateur affair in Dallas with the winner guaranteed a game against MLS opposition in the Fourth Round. Wichita play out of the NPSL and boast a stable of talented players like the Tayou Brothers (Uzi and Frank) and silky Brazil-born creator Leo Sosa. A club with as much investment and resources as many of their professional counterparts, the Kansans will nevertheless be up against it when they meet the in-form Rayados. The Texans steamrolled over OKC Energy FC in the previous round after an extra-time goal spree that saw the game end 5-2 and Christian Okeke score his third goal of the tournament. Having gone out in the First Round of the last three installments, it took the Rayados until 2018 to win their first Open Cup game. Now they’re bound and determined to keep their run going as far as it will take them.

Sporting Arizona FC are lone survivors from the all-amateur United Premier Soccer League (UPSL). Their shootout win in the Second Round over USL pros Phoenix Rising was one of the most impressive giant-killing performances on the 24-game schedule. Much of the credit goes to goalkeeper Andrew Weber, who won an MLS Cup in 2015 as a back-up with the Portland Timbers, and was in the form of his life on the outskirts of Phoenix in an Open Cup upset for the ages. “Of course [Weber’s] talented and he can keep the ball out of the net,” said Sporting’s coach Aidan Davison, a former English Premier League goalkeeper. “But he’s also a great mentor for the young guys in the team. He’s somewhere between a player and a coach for us.”

(Sporting Arizona FC brought the thunder against USL's Phoenix Rising in the last round)

FC Golden State Force, the PDL team out of Whittier, California, flew into the 2018 Open Cup under the radar. Led by former MLS player Dominic Oduro, the Force rolled over SoCal amateur powers LA Wolves in the First Round before repeating the act against USL pros Orange County SC (4-2) in the Second Round. Up next, they host USL full-timers Las Vegas Lights – a colorful all-pro side with a pair of live llamas as mascots and one Freddy Adu in the squad.

All-Pro Action Elsewhere
While the underdogs hog the spotlight in the 2018 Open Cup’s Third Round, there’s a series of all-USL contests to fill out the schedule. Last year’s Cinderella side FC Cincinnati, who went on a run to the Semifinals and drew huge crowds to their Nippert Stadium, are on the road against fellow USL side the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The men from Pittsburgh arrived by edging out Erie Commodores of NPSL last week and have a proud Open Cup tradition in America’s oldest soccer tournament, having gone to the Quarterfinals of the 2001 Open Cup as members of the now-defunct A-League.

(FC Cincinnati went to the Semifinals of #USOC2017 & started strong with a win over Detroit City this year)

Louisville City of USL ran over PDL’s Long Island Rough Riders in their Second Round opener, scoring five unanswered goals. Their reward is a home game in the Third Round against fellow USL rivals St Louis FC, who didn’t have things all their own way in the game against Duluth FC up in Minnesota, but still managed to a 2-0 win on the day. 

The Richmond Kickers look to keep up the form after avenging last year’s early exit with a hard-fought shootout win over PDL side Reading United in the Second Round last week. The 1995 champion Kickers, a club for 25 years (among the oldest continually operating pro clubs in the country), now play hosts to Penn FC at their City Stadium in Virginia. “We’re set up for a good run in the Open Cup this year,” said coach Leigh Cowlishaw, a member of the young Richmond side who lifted the Open Cup in 1995. Penn FC, for their part, had a long night in their opener, eventually edging out FC Motown of the NPSL in the Second Round. 

(The Richmond Kickers went toe-to-toe with Reading United in the last round - and needed PKs to win the day)

San Antonio FC, who hammered NPSL side Midland-Odessa Sockers 4-0 in the last round, open their doors to Colorado Springs Switchbacks (also of USL), who had to huff and puff to get the better of amateur debutants FC Denver 3-2 last week. The last of the 12 Third Round contests pits Sacramento Republic, who went to the Fifth Round last year, on the road against Reno 1868 FC, who came back from an early deficit to destroy Portland Timbers U23 7-3 last week to reach the third stage. 

ussoccer.com is the official website of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and will provide a stream of as many Open Cup games as possible. Comprehensive video and written coverage of the tournament will also be available. You can follow the Open Cup on Twitter and Instagram @OpenCup and Facebook @OfficialOpenCup.

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