- 1st Round Wrap: Christos Tumble, Detroit City celebrate & the Bhoys stroll
- VIDEO: Open Cup REWIND - The Brooklyn Italians: More than a Club
- READ/WATCH: Found in Yonkers: The Salvation of Sean Kelly
- READ: Open Cup REWIND – ’95 Kickers: ‘Lightning in a Bottle’
- READ/WATCH: Detroit City: The People's Club
- READ: Minnesota Nice & the Miracle of Duluth FC
Christos FC were the darlings of the first four rounds of last year’s U.S. Open Cup. They beat the 1995 champions (and full pros) the Richmond Kickers. They booked a date with D.C. United and took a shock lead on that fateful day. They could do no wrong and we were all lucky enough to be along for the ride. But this year’s a different story. The ball doesn’t always bounce your way and neither does the Draw. Most of the Christos players were still in work clothes when they piled in their bus at Christos Discount Liquor Store, the club’s spiritual home of 20 years on the outskirts of Baltimore, and headed the two-and-a-half hours to Pennsylvania and Alvernia University. There they met 12-time Open Cup participants Reading United – a team with a gleam in their eye and the same desire and talent that had Christos swaggering through the 2017 dance. Neither side deserved to lose, but one did. Christos FC, those brothers of Ann Arundel County and modern-day Open Cup legends, were back on the bus, streetlights winking through the windows. And they were all back home in time to get some rest before clocking in at work in the morning.
(This is what it looks like when you win your first-ever Open Cup game - Duluth FC)
Nothing but History in Duluth
Every touch of the ball was historic when Dakota Fusion and Duluth FC squared off in the first-ever Open Cup game for both teams. First kick-off, first yellow card. First this. First that. The lively visitors from Dakota were so excited about their first time in fact, they scored their first-ever Open Cup goal almost before the blast of the opening whistle drifted to silence in the chilly Minnesota night. Miah Willis jumped for joy after he latched on to a loose ball barely ten seconds in and poked it home. His name will live on in the Open Cup record books – and likely for a good long while. But the boys from Minnesota were excited too. A club founded by a wacky soccer-playing priest and alive and kicking for only three years, they stood toe-to-toe with their friends from Fargo. They traded blows until they could hardly stand – the score balanced and bloated at 4-4. The Duluthians survived the shootout and their blessed dream continues for another day – though USL pros St Louis FC might make them pay if they defend so generously next Wednesday.
Who’s this, then? We’ve seen him before. Yeah, him on the touchline there. Is it? Nah, couldn’t be. Yeah – it’s him! Paul Caligiuri is an icon of American soccer. Long before Christian Pulisic, there was Paul Caligiuri – hair flying in the breeze, flag unfurled up over his head. He scored the ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ in Trinidad in 1989 to send the U.S. back to the World Cup after 40 full years in the wilderness of international exile. He’s a big reason the game’s important in our country today. Part of the reason you’re able to stream 23 of 26 Open Cup First Round games on the Internet. And he’s there, in the Open Cup – that island of soccer opportunity – pulling the strings as head coach of Orange City FC. And he’s got that look in his eye again. The one he had back then. His OC boys, led by two-goal man Daniel ten Bosch, gave good indication their coach’s aiming high in 2018. Caligiuri is a member in good-standing of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and a recent candidate for the U.S. Soccer presidency. The SoCal native finished his playing career by lifting the Open Cup with LA Galaxy in 2001 and now he’s back with his eyes on that prize again.
The Cruelty of Kicks from the Penalty Spot
Kicks from the penalty mark. That’s what they’re called, officially, in the Laws of the Game. Did you know that? We call it a shootout. It reeks of death and dying. Only one cowboy can win a gunfight, right? And the loser pays a heavy price. The shootout, the PKs, spot-kicks – whatever you want to call them – exist outside of the game. When you score in one, it’s not a goal. When you win a game via penalties, it’s still a draw on the official record. It’s a method of deciding a winner and it’s despised by all – or anyone who’s ever had to make that long lonesome walk from midfield to the spot.
(Roderic 'Roddy' Green was the hero for Detroit City FC in their shootout win over Michigan Bucks)
But it’s tolerated by all, too. The shootout is designed with an understanding of cruelty in mind – and the absolute assurance of our human fallibility. Someone will miss. Eventually, someone will miss. And they’ll have to live with it. It’s an expediency – to decide who goes through. Five of 26 First-Round games in the 2018 Open Cup were settled by this meanest of methods. For all the smiles and celebrations in Detroit and Duluth and Erie, Pa., let’s remember the tears of those who missed. There’s no difference between Roderic ‘Roddy’ Green – Detroit City’s hero on the night – and Declan ‘Decky’ Hunter of Kendall Wanderers, who saw his kick saved in the fog up near the New Hampshire border. They both had the guts to step up. We should all be so brave.That was Then & This is Now in NYC
The Brooklyn Italians had turned the clock back in their Play-In game against the New York Cosmos. The Brooklynites, twice winners of the Open Cup from the sideburn and mustache semi-pro era, haven’t figured much lately in the top echelon of New York’s soccer scene. But they battered the New York Cosmos, heavy favorites, on a Sunday night at LIU’s Brooklyn campus. Rasmus Hansen, a star with the LIU Blackbirds, scored twice on the night. The winner, four minutes from time, had him dancing the way Snoopy does when he’s delighted. The Open Cup magic was in the air. A giant was felled. And the Italians were, suddenly and once again, the toast of the Big City’s soccer scene. It lasted a little over 48 hours, until the Lansdowne Bhoys of Yonkers – the bright shining stars of the here and now in NYC – came knocking. The Bhoys had no trouble. They didn’t let Hansen find the seams where he was so dangerous against the Cosmos. They kept him from his joyful dance. The Bhoys did the job they came to do and won out 2-0 on the night.
A Thought for the Fallen
The game is fun. The game’s for everyone. We remember the goals and the celebrations. We remember the drama of play. But let us remember, too, the dangers that lurk. And let us remember those who fall on those big days. The game between old rivals FC Denver and Azteca FC was halted for a long while when Kyle Heppenstall, a player who loves nothing more than to win a 50/50 ball, hit the ground. He hit it hard. He wasn’t moving. Things went quiet and the players, teammates and opponents, wore those worried looks that tell the whole story. That was bad. The paramedics drove onto the field. Heppenstall’s neck was stabilized and he was taken away in an ambulance. The game continued on. It always does. We hear Heppenstall was released from the hospital late last night and is on the mend. We’re grateful for it – see ya soon, big fella.
The Duka Double
There was a weakness to be exploited. Not everyone saw it. You needed a keen eye to glimpse the gap. It was tiny, but it was an opening. New York Red Bulls U23 coach Simon Nee hoped Sacir Hot, his opposite number with FC Motown, didn’t notice. But he did. He’s sharp, this one. He didn’t last long in Major League Soccer (MLS) as a player, but he’s going a good long way as a manager – you can count on this. Midway through the first half, Hot moved his veteran ace, Dilly Duka – who’s played for a raft of MLS clubs including NYRB, wide out on the left. It changed the whole complexion of the game. It turned the tide for FC Motown – amateurs from New Jersey out of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). Duka scored twice in two minutes to seal a 2-1 come-from-behind win and book a date with Penn FC of the USL next week. Tactics matter.
Goals, Goals & More Goals
In the one contest on Tuesday, Portland Timbers U23 scored enough to fill a few games. Rey Ortiz-Flores took the game by the throat and orchestrated a 5-0 victory over Kitsap Pumas. Two of Miami’s finest amateur clubs combined on Wednesday to score nine – Miami FC 2 scored four unanswered against Red Force FC and David Ochoa scored three hot ones in Miami United FC’s 5-2 win over Kendall FC. Chuku Aruh, of Inter Nashville FC, went completely goal-crazy on the day. He scored three in the first 45 minutes of a rout of Charlotte Eagles to help his team become the first from the Volunteer State to win an Open Cup game in 20 years. Over in Colorado, Cesar Castillo bagged himself a hat-trick too, in a six-goal thriller against Azteca FC. Not a single game of the 26 ended goalless after regular time or extra-time. Only seven of the 52 teams in action failed to get on the scoreboard. And in all, 99 goals were scored across 26 games and four time zones – nearly four goals per game. Let there be more of the same when the Second Round kicks off next Wednesday May 16.