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. (Michigan Bucks 1, Saint Louis FC 2 RECAP)
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. WATCH
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. WATCH
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. WATCH
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. WATCH
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. WATCH
North Carolina FC of NASL host Charlotte Independence (USL) [WATCH], 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. WATCH
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. WATCH
WILD, WILD WEST
In the late games of the round, USL sides Colorado Springs Switchbacks take on OKC Energy FC [WATCH], 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. WATCH
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. WATCH
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. WATCH
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, Twitter and Instagram. The Fourth Round, and the entrance of 19 Major League Soccer sides, is scheduled for June 13 and 14.