Fans of the 105-year-old Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup live by its magic moments. And the Third Round of the 2018 competition tossed up a good few of those on May 22 and 23. Join ussoccer.com for a look back at eight moments of note from the 12 games, in which the llama-less Las Vegas Lights tumbled out, a whole host of long-range goals rained down and a fresh-faced 16-year-old made a debut and an impact.
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Lightning Twice for Cincy?
Underdogs FC Cincinnati set last year’s Open Cup alight with a dramatic run to the threshold of an Open Cup Final. But unlike countless Cupsetters past who’ve drifted off into the sunset the subsequent year, they’re back for more – and maybe better. They handled lively amateurs Detroit City 4-1 (a.e.t) in their first game and set the bar that much higher in their second when they hammered USL mates Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3-1 on the banks of the Monongahela in Steel City. The Hounds hadn’t conceded a goal at home all year, but the Ohioans put three past them and controlled every inch of the Third Round contest. Jimmy McLaughlin’s opening goal, a suave counter-attack with deadly intentions, will have caught the attention of Minnesota United, FCC’s MLS opponents in the Fourth Round.
(FC Cincinnati were minutes away from the Final last year - and they're back at it again)
Weber’s Late What If
Sport invites a lot of counterfactual questions. It’s fertile ground for the big what-ifs. And the Open Cup, as curious a sporting event as you’re likely to find, is no exception. What if Andrew Weber, goalkeeper for amateurs Sporting Arizona FC, hit the back of the net with his volley deep in extra-time stoppage-time against Fresno FC? He took a wide run at the back post, leaving his goal exposed and throwing all caution to the wind in a hunt for life. More life. One more chance. It was the last kick of the game. If he'd hit the target instead of shooting just wide, it would have forced a penalty shootout – and Weber – a one-time journeyman in MLS – is good at those as we saw in Sporting’s Second Round win over USL pros Phoenix Rising. But alas, that final kick of the game went agonizingly off into the dark beyond the floodlights. Instead of an Open Cup underdog’s roar, we got a gasp of relief from the pros from Fresno. Then the final whistle, its echo, and an empty silence. What if?
No Llamas, No Luck
The Las Vegas Lights, first-year club out of USL, are a colorful bunch. Former Public Enemy hype-man and reality TV icon Flava Flav turns up to home games, Freddy Adu – American soccer’s great cautionary tale – comes in off the bench. A foam rubber Elvis with a huge head stalks the touchline and the club’s uniforms are, well, one-of-a-kind. But the most endearing emblem of the Lights organization is a pair of Llamas – Dotty and Dolly – who dress in specially designed Lights uniforms and attend all the team’s home games. They stand with the players for the pre-game photos, sometimes their butts aimed at the camera, and team captain Hiqui holds their reins to keep them as still as you can keep a pair of Llamas in the middle of a stadium full of screaming fans. Dotty and Dolly travelled to UNLV for the Lights' opener, a hard-fought 4-2 seesaw over amateurs FC Tucson. But the trip to Downey, California for the Third Round was too much for the gals. And without them, the Lights went out – losing to a pair of goals from Allison Faramilio that saw amateur SoCal side FC Golden State Force through to a Fourth Round dream date with MLS royalty LA Galaxy. A small plea to the men from Sin City: Next time, bring your llamas.
(Baby-faced Ethan Bryant - right - is only 16 and he made his Open Cup & Pro debut this week for San Antonio FC)
Sweet Sixteen in San Antonio
What were you doing when you were 16? Not much? Ethan Bryant, barely old enough to drive and with the delicate features of a kid even younger, lined up in his first professional game. He drew a crucial penalty and played 120 minutes of San Antonio FC’s dramatic shootout win over Colorado Springs Switchbacks. He’s blond and slight and looks in danger of being run over by those older and larger and meaner – but he’s a talent. Bryant learned the game early in his backyard, pushing a couple of garbage cans together for goals. He dropped traditional high school and went the home-school route to focus on his dream of turning pro. And it’s all paid off. He’s one of only three players 16 years of age or younger currently on contract in the USL. Bryant is, without any confusion or debate, still a boy. But he manned up in a big way in the Open Cup and took a first step into a larger world.
OK Okeke, We See You
We noticed you wear No. 121 on your shirt. What’s that all about? We couldn’t miss your three game-winning goals so far for NTX Rayados, including the one on Wednesday that sent you and your fellow North Texas amateurs through to the rarefied air of the Fourth Round. We can’t help notice you’re helping fill our hearts with Open Cup romanticism and a belief that, with the right kind of wind, anything’s possible. You scored 30 goals a season in high school and were an All-American in college, so we maybe should have seen this coming. Still, it’s surprising somehow. Four goals in three games in the Open Cup proper is an achievement very few can muster, and we’ve got a feeling you might not be done yet. You’ve got a date in Houston with top-tier pros from Major League Soccer (MLS) next, and you can be sure we’ll be watching you closely, young man (just like the Dynamo’s defense). Count on it.
(North Carolina FC hit their first in from close, but the Third Round was full of long-range rockets)
The Goals Keep Coming
We’re four rounds deep into the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and not one single game has ended in a goalless draw (after 90 minutes or extra-time). Still no zero-zero draws – for a third straight round – that’s 62 games of soccer, over 6000 minutes of play. That, friends, is a miracle. In the First Round, 99 goals were scored across 26 games and four time zones – nearly four goals per game. In the Second Round, there were 93 goals in 24 games (again an average near four-per-game). This time, in the Third Round, things slowed a bit (no surprise with so much on the line). But 27 goals were scored through 12 games, closer to two goals-per-game than four, but still pretty darned good as far as we’re concerned.
The Long-Rangers Ride Again
There were all kinds of goals in the Third Round – little tika-taka types like the Richmond Kickers’ dreamy winner against Penn FC. There were scrappy and scruffy goals too, like North Carolina FC’s close-in opener against Ocean City Nor’easters. But what stands out from the Round were the thunderbolts from distance. The rockets. The top-corner arrows from way, way out. They tumbled from the air like heavy raindrops. Louisville City FC’s Sean Totsch hit a screamer from 25 yards into the top corner when the Saint Louis FC defense just begged him to have a go. It was the only goal of the game and it put the Kentucky side through. Before that, Thomas Granitto, an El Salvador youth international, turned, picked up his head, and fired in a whipping dipper for Miami United FC, the SoFla amateurs who now face MLS’ Orlando City SC in the Fourth Round. Keven Aleman’s long-distance free kick was the only goal of the contest as Sacramento Republic knocked out Reno 1868 to move on too. Lance Laing scored FC Cincinnati’s second direct from a way-out free-kick on the road in Pittsburgh. But the best of the 12-game docket, on a night with many worthy of the honor, must go to Danny Barrera of Fresno FC. He hit the ball as sweet as you could from a mile out in the warm evening air of Mesa, Arizona.
(Louisville City were one of the teams that reached the Fourth Round thanks to an effort from distance)
Let’s turn our attention now to those less fortunate - the ones leaving us, as they must, after coming up short. We’ll remember Uriel Macias of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, a walk-on who joined the team after impressing in an open try-out. The rookie was the only player to miss in the shootout with San Antonio FC. The ball seemed to never stop rising after it left his foot – up, up, over the bar, over the stands and out of the stadium. We wave goodbye to FC Wichita – their talented captain Leo Sosa and the Tayou brothers. The spirited amateurs from Kansas were seconds away from penalties (and maybe a place in the next round), but stumbled at the same hurdle for a second year running. Elm City Express, rare entrants from New Haven, Conn., gave as good as they got in Charleston against the all-pro Battery, but they couldn’t find a way to goal. Mississippi Brilla, yes, and you Ocean City Nor’easters from the Jersey Shore, we salute you too. We hope, sincerely, to see you again soon.