Twitter wasn’t kind to Lloyd Sam after he came off the bench and scored on amateur darlings Christos FC, effectively turning a close-run contest in the Open’s Cup’s Fourth Round between David and Goliath into a 4-1 rout for D.C. United. Sam jumped in the way of David’s fate-filled stone and paved the way for Goliath to maul the littler man. “I got a bunch of tweets and texts after the game with people calling me the enemy of soccer and things like that for scoring on Christos,” he said, laughing gently. “But that’s cool. I thought it was funny and I get it. I really do.”
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A few of the Tweets went like this: Lloyd Sam is the Worst! & Lloyd Sam…just ruined the best story of #USOC2017 and one even did label him the enemy of the Open Cup and soccer writ large. Feelings were hurt. An underdog that people had come to care for met its end. Things were said. It happens and pros have thick skins. But far from an enemy of soccer, he’s a spirited advocate of the beloved Cinderella runs that imbue the Open Cup with its magic. “Those boys showed an awful lot of fight in that game and they made things really complicated for us. I mean that.”
The 32-year-old speaks slowly in a laid-back, Londoner’s accent. You get the sense that when he talks about the green-clad Baltimore amateurs, a side sponsored by a discount liquor store, he really admires what they’re doing and what they did. He couldn’t help falling for the team he himself helped to eliminate. It doesn’t sound canned, like a pro saying the right things about an underdog just to say them.
Admiration for the Little Guy
“They had thousands of fans there,” Sam added, the smile growing in his voice. “I was asking myself, ‘how does an amateur team get all these fans?’ Everyone was wearing green at the Stadium and it was our home game! They were loud too! I was impressed. I’ll admit that.”
To call Sam mellow would be an understatement. Born in Leeds and raised in London, he grew up playing in the Sunday leagues with friends before getting noticed by scouts from Charlton Athletic. He spent a huge chunk of his youth at the club, age 14 to 25, and even made ten appearances in the Premier League. He was raised in the cauldron of the English game, with the most severe of professional demands. But Sam, now in the autumn of his career, is just so cool about the game. He takes his work seriously, but he wants to have fun doing it. You get the sense he might get along just famously with the gang from Christos FC, and fit right into that team of boasters and live-wires who play because they love it.
“It’s easy to forget that the game's supposed to be fun,” said Sam, having made the jump from England to the U.S. in 2012 when he joined up for his first of five seasons with New York Red Bulls. “It’s not just any old job you know. There have been times in my career when gamedays were the worst days, the most stressful days. It just shouldn’t be like that.”
Sam is a dynamic attacker, good enough to have earned a cap for Ghana, the country of his parents’ birth. When he was traded suddenly to D.C. United at the start of last season, Red Bulls fans weren’t happy about it. “We all started playing this game as kids because we love the way it made us feel. We need to remember that,” he urged. “If you don’t, you won’t be at your best and you’re not doing the right thing with your life. Simple as that.”
In all his years back home, Sam – who had early exposure to U.S. culture attending American schools in Senegal and England – never managed a deep Cup run, nothing memorable in the FA Cup. He did manage to reach the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup in 2003, losing out to a Manchester United side led by Kieron Richardson. But here and now in the American game, a veteran pro for over a decade, Sam’s eager for a run at the Open Cup.
Big Cup Ambitions
“We’ve started well. And there’s no reason we can’t keep it going,” said Sam, who has four goals this term and admits to his D.C. United side being out of sorts in league play, currently third from bottom in the Eastern Conference. The Round of 16 game on June 28 against New England Revolution represents a chance to kick-start something good. “It’s a good way to jump-start the season, to get out there and get some goals and get things going again. It’s a way to forget and move on. We’ve got some rhythm and we’re four wins away from a trophy in the Cup. That’s something to take seriously.”
Just because he’s laid back doesn’t mean Sam takes his role as a team veteran lightly. It’s quite the contrary. “I’m a little more vocal now than I’ve ever been,” said the long-time Arsenal fan, who holds his season playing alongside Thierry Henry in New York as the thrill of a lifetime. “Well, I was always vocal but not in the team-leadership kind of way. Now I’m vocal in the right way. You have to show the young guys that nerves are going to pass and to believe in yourself.”
This is precisely the reason Sam was the perfect substitute for D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen to bring on in the second-half and squash Christos FC’s dream, even if it meant making himself the villain of the piece (and the internet). “I was always going to be calm coming into that game,” he said after scoring a tidy third from 20 yards in a game that was still tight and in the balance at 1-2. “You can’t calm anyone else down, it’s not in your power, but if they see you relaxed and going about your business it might help them a little.”
The aim of any player – Christos FC’s amateurs or D.C. United’s top-tier pros – is to win. But for the MLS pro, it’s an actual job no matter how fun. “The guys from the lower leagues play like their lives depend on it – it’s a Cup final every time for them,” he said, brimming with respect for the men in green of Christos FC, at this very moment in front of desks or pushing lawnmowers. “It’s a great story for them and they want it to go on forever, but you never want to be on the other side of a big upset in the Cup.”Read more
Cincinnati, Ohio is the capital of American Soccer. Let it sink in. Say it out loud and let it roll around your mind. For the moment at least, all eyes are on this city where the Licking and Ohio rivers meet, known more for a devotion to bats, mitts, and the oval kind of football. “There’s a perfect storm going on here,” midfielder Andrew Wiedeman told ussoccer.com about his second-tier FC Cincinnati, on a run to the Round of 16 of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup that is drawing huge crowds to a downtown dead as doornails not long ago.
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“It was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in in my career,” said Wiedeman, the San Francisco Bay Area native who admitted to getting goosebumps “literally, for the first time” when he marched onto the turf at Nippert Stadium on June 14 for a famous 1-0 win over nearby MLS outfit Columbus Crew SC. There were 30,160 fans in the stands – a record crowd for a non-Final in the Open Cup. And they weren’t just there. They were loud, easily drowning out Crew fans who’d made the 100-mile trip south. “And I say that having played in all the big MLS stadiums. Nothing comes close to that day. The Bailey was just crazy!”
What’s the Bailey, you ask? It’s a section at the north end of the Stadium, built in 1915 for American football and part of the University of Cincinnati campus. It’s where 1,700 of FC Cincinnati’s hardest-core supporters stand and shout, ignite buckets of blue smoke, unfurl elaborate tifos, bang drums and generally intimidate the hell out of visiting teams. “I wouldn’t want to be an opposing goalkeeper and have the Bailey bouncing up over my head,” added Wiedeman, a whip-smart pro since 2010 with four seasons in MLS to his name. Believe him when he says there’s something special going on in the Queen City.
The Bailey Effect
“I think the word Bailey comes from the old days and means some kind of castle wall,” said Ryan Lammi, a member of Die Innenstadt – one of a clutch of supporters groups that sprang to life and grew up with the new United Soccer League (USL) team since its founding just 21 months ago. “It’s a little tough to pronounce, and even tougher to spell,” 27 year-old Lammi laughed, taking time out from his job as a civil engineer to chat about the young club he’s come to love. Innenstadt means inner city in German and is a nod to the city’s sizable German roots. “When we get to banging on the banners up there in the Bailey it makes a ton of noise and can be pretty intimidating.”
Die Innenstadt isn’t the only supporters group to rise up around FC Cincinnati, now in its second season, but they’re crucial in the march that happens every matchday. About a mile from Nippert Stadium is a bar called Mecklenburg’s Garden, where Die Innenstadt’s die-hards hoist a few barley pops and make a few toasts to good health and cheer in the beer garden. When sufficiently lubricated, they begin to walk up Vine St. to Corry Boulevard. They pick up other crews along the way, all with their own names and their own home bar. By the time they get to the stadium and march up to the Bailey, they’re warmed up – singing and drumming and making the cocky noises of seasoned soccer fans.
Supporters on the March
“We just go outside our bar and wait for the crowd to come up the road,” said Payne Rankin, a Cincinnati native late to his love affair with soccer but an evangelist now – converting members of his family who hated the game because it wasn’t gridiron or baseball and was too different to care about. “Before the Columbus Crew game, I looked back at the march and it was huge – 2000 people maybe. We kept picking ‘em up and it grew and grew.”
The Crew fans, a creditable band of 1000 easy, never had a chance. They were drowned out early and completely. Come to think of it, the Crew never had a chance on the pitch either. Even with Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp, Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay in the starting XI – damn near a full-strength side – they couldn’t counter the power of the Bailey, FC Cincinnati and this particular moment in time and space. The Crew dictated the play in the first-ever Ohio Derby, but FCC held firm and the Bailey blow the ball away from the danger zones.
“We’re up there perched like weird birds – It’s ominous and there’s smoke and flags and we’re just being annoying and looking down,” said 25-year-old Payne. His supporters group is called The Pride, and he’s found himself in the grip of an extraordinary sporting moment. “It’s impossible at the time to know how loud you’re being because you’re just one of many, but when we scored I’m telling you there were pretty stoic men crying in the stands.”
The only goal of the game came right under the Bailey at Nippert’s north end. It was just after the hour-mark of a game FC Cincinnati spent sitting back and bunkered in. “They definitely won the possession battle,” chuckled Wiedeman, who claims if ever an MLS bid were to come to the Queen City it would be “the second coming of Portland.”
The Crew took 19 shots to FCC’s five on the day. But the scorer was only ever going to be one man: Djiby Fall. He’s from faraway Senegal but he calls Cincinnati home now. A pro for well over a decade, he’s played in Denmark, Russia, Norway, UAE and Belgium. He’s the best header of a ball that Wiedeman’s ever seen. But at 32 and winding down, he’s just a gun for hire – a goal-slinger for money, right? Not quite. “I was emotional,” said Fall who’s scored three goals so far in the Open Cup and all of them match-winners. “When I saw our fans up there and the support they were giving us, how they reacted to my goal, I became very emotional.”
Fall Tears Fell Too
Fall fell to his knees and shed tears. He shed them just like the Bailey’s stoic men – some of whom didn’t give a damn for soccer a few years ago but are right in the thick of it now. “You saw it when he scored,” said Rankin, who says he’ll never forget that night. “Fall started celebrating like it was just another goal, and then it hit him: he fell to his knees and got emotional because he knew what it meant to all of us up there. He went from happy to just collapsing – all because of this crazy, beautiful, awesome, frustrating game.”
And that’s not it. It would be enough for a lifetime if it was, but there’s more to the story. These fans in this city, who’ve made something special where there was nothing but empty seats and potential before, get to do it all over again. The gods have blessed them with another home game in the Round of 16, and it’s well on its way to a sell-out when Chicago Fire and their stars come marching into town. Broadcasters, with their eagle eye for numbers and trends, have taken notice too. ESPN2 will air the game in a national broadcast - rare for the Open Cup before the Semifinal Round.
“We’ve got nothing to lose when the Fire come, just like we had nothing to lose when Columbus came,” said Wiedeman. “The pressure’s on them and they’ll have a lot to answer for to their fans if they slip up. If we do, our fans will be proud of us.” Rankin, one of those fans caught up in this singular moment in a quiet corner of the American Midwest, is ready to do his part – one loud, proud voice in a crowd: “All we can do as supporters is be as loud as we can and hope that makes a difference.”Read more
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A pattern quickly emerges when talking to the Galaxy’s homegrown Brothers Villarreal. Jose, 23, is the archetypal older brother. He’s humble, not easily drawn out and serious. But Jaime, 21, is full of laughter and anecdotes; he brims with the exuberance of youth and speaks freely like a kid who’s always had someone looking out for him. Both are midfielders of a similar vintage and both came through the Galaxy’s youth ranks, growing up at the Major League Soccer club in Southern California. But that day in the Open Cup’s Fourth Round was the first time they ever played together as pros – two Villarreals among 11 Galaxy men in the starting line-up.
“I didn’t notice until after the game,” said big brother Jose, who’s been with LA since 2011, spending a short time out on loan with Cruz Azul in Mexico, the country of his parents’ birth. “Someone told me after, and then I got thinking about how special it is for our family.” Younger brother Jaime was the closest player to Jose when his curling shot, a worthy winner of any game on any stage, opened the scoring in the rout of Orange County. And he was first to grab hold of his brother and celebrate. “It was always our dream to play together,” Jaime said, a smile in his voice. “And to have it happen for the first time here, where we grew up, it was even more amazing.”
Jose and Jaime’s parents were up in the stands that evening. It wasn’t the main stadium on the Carson, California campus, but it was a bigger day than any World Cup final for the Villarreal family. “My folks just had these huge smiles on their faces after the game,” said Jaime, just starting out, getting his first starts and taking his first steps in the professional world – everything still fresh and new. “They were so proud of us.”
Jose and Jaime’s parents might have known their boys were destined for glory on the soccer field. But I bet mom’s face didn’t beam with a proud smile back when the boys were destroying her living room, kicking a ball around the house and doing the damage little kids do playing the games they love. “We broke so many things in that house,” said Jose, with a rare chuckle. “They’d get mad at us about it, for sure.”
While mom spent hours reordering the house after the inevitable mishaps of play, father instilled a sense of competition in the boys that persists to this day. Even when they were on the same youth team, which they were for most of their boyhood, competition between them was intense. “We’d try to score more goals than each other,” said Jaime. “And we’d argue over who had the better game. All of that. It never really goes away!”
Soccer – A Road Out
Soccer was a way out for the Villarreal boys back then. At least it was a way to steer clear of the violence that plagued their hometown of Inglewood in Southwestern LA. “We played soccer there from morning until the sun went down,” said Jaime of Inglewood, whose rough edges are well known while its identity as a soccer hot-bed goes unnoticed. “Being into soccer was a way for the guys in the gangs to see we were into something else. They left us alone and it was almost like they didn’t mess with us because of it.”
Born into a proud Mexican-American family with deep, generations-old roots in the game, the Villarreal boys had no choice. Soccer was important at home and they grew to love it. “My mom didn’t really like soccer when I was really young,” remembered Jaime who, like his brother, has represented the U.S. at youth level. “But she came to love it too.”
And while the boys were breaking vases in the living room and coming home dusty from of a day of soccer in the neighborhood, the LA Galaxy was a beacon up on a hill. A distant goal to aim for that mirrored their own development, their own growth in the world. Jaime was born one year before the club’s first season in 1996. Jose had a special place in his heart for Mexico legends Luis Hernandez and Jorge Campos, who pulled on the Galaxy colors in those early years, while young Jaime gravitated toward feisty Guatemalan striker Carlos El Pescadito Ruiz. “Being able to see these guys in person – at the stadium – not just on TV was huge for us,” said Jose.
Just Beginning for the Brothers Villarreal
Since helping to orchestrate the Open Cup win and booking a place in the tournament's Round of 16 against second-tier strivers Sacramento Republic, the Villarreals earned their first start in league play together. They both took the field in a 3-1 win over Colorado Rapids, becoming only the ninth set of brothers in MLS history to start a game side by side.
When asked if it’s a little annoying having his older brother around all the time, Jaime is quick to protest. “No way. I’m happy about it. We’re not just brothers, we’re friends,” he said of Jose, who shares an adjoining locker in the Galaxy changing room. “We hang together and go to the gym together.” And Jose doesn’t mind his little brother hanging around all the time, either, always prouder of Jaime’s exploits than his own: “It’s cool to watch him grow. He asks me questions and we help each other out.”
But the competitive edge remains. It always will, like Jaime says. It won’t ever go away. Dad taught those Villarreal boys well. Jaime laughs when he remembers his first start, and you can hear he’s shaking his head. “I got my first start in the first team in Minnesota,” he said. “And when I got back to LA, Omar Gonzalez jumped up in the locker-room to congratulate me. I look at my brother sitting right next to him and he’s smiling and he says: ‘But it wasn’t as good as my debut – I scored in mine!’ It will never end.”
“We grew up with the Galaxy,” said Jose, a little crack in his big-brotherly foundation. He’s aiming for years and years beside his brother in that very locker-room and out on the same pitch, guiding him along the way and protecting his spirit like he always has, even when he doesn’t need it anymore. “Sometimes I can’t even believe what we get to do every day,” added Jaime, on fire with the possibilities – the whole world ahead of him and his big brother by his side. “I’ll grind every day to make sure I don’t forget it.”Read more
CHICAGO (June 23, 2017) – U.S. Soccer announced that the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 match between FC Cincinnati and Chicago Fire on Wednesday, June 28 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and streamed on the ESPN App. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. ET.
Division II club FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League (USL) advanced to the Round of 16 with a 1-0 win in the Fourth Round against Division I outfit Columbus Crew SC of Major League Soccer (MLS), which drew a competition crowd of 30,160 at Nippert Stadium, an Open Cup record for a non-Final game. A Division I team, Chicago Fire progressed with a win over USL’s Saint Louis FC by the same 1-0 scoreline.
The winner of the Round of 16 game between FC Cincinnati and Chicago Fire will travel to face the winner of Miami FC (NASL; Division II) and Atlanta United (MLS), with the Quarterfinal round taking place between July 7-16.
Since their inaugural season in 1998, Chicago Fire have compiled a 42-14-5 record in Open Cup play while, FC Cincinnati have a 4-1-0 tournament record in their two years of existence. Chicago has reached the Semifinal round 12 times and the Final six times. Additionally, the Fire have hoisted the Open Cup trophy four times – 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2006.
The 2017 U.S. Open Cup is the 104th consecutive installment of the single-elimination Cup competition. It is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the United States and the world's third-longest-running open soccer tournament.
2017 U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 (June 27-28)
|June 27||FC Dallas (MLS) vs. Colorado Rapids (MLS)
||7 p.m. CT
|Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas
|June 28||Houston Dynamo (MLS) vs. Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
||5:30 p.m. CT WATCH
||BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas
|June 28||New England Revolution (MLS) vs. D.C. United (MLS)||7:30 p.m. ET WATCH
||Jordan Field (Harvard University); Boston, Mass.|
|June 28||Miami FC (NASL) vs. Atlanta United FC (MLS)||7:30 p.m. ET WATCH
||Riccardo Silva Stadium (Fla. International Univ.); Miami, Fla.|
|June 28||New York Red Bulls (MLS) vs. Philadelphia Union (MLS)
||8 p.m. ET
|Red Bull Arena; Harrison, N.J.
|June 28||FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. Chicago Fire (MLS)||8 p.m. ET
|Nippert Stadium (Univ. of Cincinnati); Cincinnati, Ohio|
|June 28||San Jose Earthquakes (MLS) vs. Seattle Sounders FC (MLS)||7:30 p.m. PT WATCH
||Avaya Stadium; San Jose, Calif.|
|June 28||LA Galaxy (MLS) vs. Sacramento Republic FC (USL)||7:30 p.m. PT WATCH
||StubHub Center Track Stadium; Carson, Calif.|
Quarterfinals (July 7-16)
|TBD||New England Revolution (MLS) vs. New York Red Bulls (MLS)/Philadelphia Union (MLS) winner||TBD||Jordan Field (Harvard University); Boston, Mass.|
|TBD||D.C. United (MLS) vs. New York Red Bulls (MLS)/Philadelphia Union (MLS) winner||TBD||Maryland SoccerPlex; Boyds, Md.|
|TBD||Miami FC (NASL) vs. FC Cincinnati (USL)/Chicago Fire (MLS) winner||TBD||Riccardo Silva Stadium (Fla. International Univ.); Miami, Fla.|
|TBD||Atlanta United FC (MLS) vs. FC Cincinnati (USL)/Chicago Fire (MLS) winner||TBD||Fifth Third Bank Stadium (Kennesaw State Univ.); Kennesaw, Ga.|
|TBD||Houston Dynamo (MLS) vs. FC Dallas (MLS)/Colorado Rapids (MLS) winner||TBD||BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas|
|TBD||Sporting Kansas City (MLS) vs. FC Dallas (MLS)/Colorado Rapids (MLS) winner||TBD||Children's Mercy Park; Kansas City, Kan.|
|TBD||San Jose Earthquakes (MLS) vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)/Sacramento Republic FC (USL) winner||TBD||Avaya Stadium; San Jose, Calif.|
|TBD||Seattle Sounders FC (MLS) vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)/Sacramento Republic FC (USL) winner||TBD||Starfire Sports Complex; Tukwila, Wash.|
Semifinals Aug. 8-9
Final Sept. 20