The third round of local amateur qualifying for the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup takes center stage this weekend with 13 games on Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 17-18) from Massachusetts to Southern California. In action are familiar names like Christos FC, the top men’s league team out of the Mid-Atlantic region, NY’s Pancyprian Freedoms, who claimed the Open Cup title three times in the old semi-pro days of the late 1970s and 80s, and Cal FC, of Ventura County, who shocked the tournament as recently as 2012 when they beat Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer (MLS).
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Scorchers set for Mass & NY
As winter begins to close its fist around the Northeast, two tantalizing contests out of New York and Massachusetts look likely to raise the temperature a few degrees. GPS Omens are powers in the Bay State Soccer League – the top amateur league in and around Boston, MA – and recently claimed their third straight BSSL title (winning nine league games in a row this fall) ahead of a clash with Safira FC, the state’s ultra-talented reigning amateur champions based in Lowell.
Omens missed out on last year’s Open Cup proper, but they played all the way to the Third Round in 2017 when 1999 champions Rochester Rhinos edged them to a Fourth Round date with MLS side New England Revolution. Loaded with talent like Keith Caldwell, brother of the Revolution’s Scott, Pat Murray and Harris Smriko, GPS will have their work cut out against a fully loaded Safira taking aim at their first-ever berth in a U.S. Open Cup. The red-clad State Champs like to keep the ball, move it around, and can break out like lightning on the flanks with veteran local star Junior Alencar.
“Coming on the heels of our third straight league title, we’re thrilled to be competing again in the Open Cup,” GPS Omens captain Greg Zuboff told ussoccer.com. “It’s a chance to play quality sides outside our own league and Safira is just that – We enjoy the heightened energy that comes with Cup play and we’re expecting a competitive match.”
(Reigning Mass State Champions Safira FC - photo by Burt Granofsky)
Just down I-95 in Jamaica, Queens, the NY Pancyprian Freedoms of the Cosmopolitan Soccer League (CSL) take on Pennsylvania-based visitors West Chester Predators, who were pipped to an automatic berth in the 2019 Open Cup after losing the National Amateur Cup final to the Milwaukee Bavarians. The Freedoms are previous heroes of the Open Cup, having won the tournament three times (1979, 1980 & 1982), when it was largely amateur and semipro in its make-up. While their past is outstanding, their present isn’t bad either – the Freedoms beat 2017 Amateur National champions Lansdowne Bhoys en route to the third qualifying round and are eager for a return to the competition’s final field. The Predators, for their part, have proven no pushover with a big win over Philadelphia’s Ukrainian Nationals (3-0) to reach this stage.
“We know the [Pancyprian] Freedoms are a storied club and this will be our first meeting against them,” said West Chester Predators head coach and director of coaching Blaise Santangelo ahead of the two-and-a-half-hour bus trip to Queens. “We’re a younger team than they are but we’re hoping we can show them what we can do with that youth.”
Christos Favored in Mid-Atlantic
It’s hard to think of Baltimore County’s outstanding amateurs Christos FC without the mind turning back to 2017 when they beat USL pros Richmond Kickers and briefly led D.C. United of Major League Soccer in the Open Cup’s Fourth Round. The former Cinderellas boast many of the same players who orchestrated that dream run, like tireless midfielder Daniel Baxter, Cody Albrecht and Pete Caringi III, the former University of Maryland Baltimore County Retriever (and current assistant coach) who’s scored an astonishing eight goals in two games to reach this third stage of 2019 qualifying. On Sunday, the Maryland Major Soccer League leaders travel to Manassas to take on Virginia United, who’ve scored four goals and conceded just one en route to this stage in the competition.
“No Open Cup qualifier is easy,” said Caringi III, a former collegiate All-American and as dangerous an aerial threat as you’ll find in the U.S. amateur ranks. “We aren’t going to sneak up on anyone anymore, so we will have to earn everything we get on the field.”
(The moment Christos FC scored against DC United in the 2017 Fourth Round)
The other game in the region sees Rochester Lancers 2 – who took part in last year’s Open Cup as the Rochester River Dogz and are coached by former Open Cup winner and Rochester Rhino ‘Deadly’ Doug Miller – host World Class Premier Elite FC out of the Maryland Major Soccer League. While they might not boast the pedigree of their league mates Christos, WCPEFC are making a hard charge in qualifying this year.
Spicy Matchups in Southeast and Central Regions
Three of the four teams in action in the Southeast Region hail from the Sunshine State of Florida. America Soccer Club, having won a pair of tight one-goals affairs so far, host Soda City Sorinex FC in Winter Garden on Saturday. The men from South Carolina (Soda City) are riding a wave of impressive results (5-1 over FC Cardinals of North Carolina and 4-2 against Shahin Atlanta). On Sunday, Hurricane FC and Florida Soccer Soldiers meet in an all-Florida affair in Delray Beach.
Over in the Central Region, NTX Rayados – aiming for their eighth straight appearance in the Open Cup proper – travel to New Orleans to take on familiar opponents Motagua New Orleans. The Louisiana men had to be patient to make sure of their place in the third round, with multiple weather delays postponing their second-round contest with Celtic Cowboys (Motagua eventually won last weekend 3-2). They’ll be up against a tough opponent in the Rayados, who, despite being made up primarily of schoolteachers and local junior college standouts from in and around Dallas, are one of the most consistent and impressive amateur teams in the country. In the 2018 Open Cup, led by player-coach Tito Salas and Victor Pinal, they beat pros OKC Energy before losing to eventual champions Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer. [Since publishing, this game has been postponed to allow Motagua equal preparation time after several weather delays in the previous round. New date to be decided]
(Tito Salas - center - and NTX Rayados, who are aiming for an eighth straight USOC berth)
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The other game in the Central Region sees ambitious Livonia City – out of suburban Detroit – host Maritsa of Missouri, who edged FC Minnesota in a 4-3 thriller in the previous round.
FC Denver Stand Tall in Mountain Region
Formed via a Craigslist ad in 2005, FC Denver quickly became a power in the fast-growing amateur scene in Colorado. Led by founder Eric Fulton, the side beat local rivals Harpos in a shootout and Indios Denver (1-0) so far and will be bolstered by a handful of new talent to compliment the veterans in the side. They’ll need to muster all of their grit and talent this time however, up against Gam United Football Club who have been outstanding with a pair of wins over Northern Colorado FC and Colorado Rovers.
“We’re thrilled to be hosting this match of the final two Colorado teams left standing,” said Fulton, aware of snow in the forecast – fitting for the game’s venue across the street from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park where the U.S. and Costa Rica played the now-famous ‘Snow-classico’ in 2013. “GAM is a terrific team with some great player acquisitions this year. They’re predicting snow and we expect it to be an exciting day for Colorado soccer.”
(Kramer Runager - right - of Santa Ana Winds)
The other game in the zone sees Southwest FC of Texas welcome Utah’s San Juan FC in a match at Pebble Hills High School in El Paso between two teams that had contrasting results in the previous round. Southwest strolled to a 4-1 win over Sporting AZ FC and San Juan needed extra time to edge the Boise Cutthroats of Idaho 4-3.
California Dreams of Open Cup
North or South, the Golden State is a hub of some of the best amateur soccer the country has to offer – and three of the four teams in action in the West section of Open Cup third round qualifying are based in Cali. First up in the Bay Area, the Oakland Stompers will host Academica SC in a contest bound to be full of tension. Both sides have been impressive in their two previous contests to reach this point [Since publishing, this game has been postponed due to poor air quality caused by wildfires in Northern California]. On Sunday, up north in Portland, Oregon, the local side IPS/Marathon Taverna take on JASA RWC of Redwood City, California.
Farther south in the SoCal section, Santa Ana Winds – who reached the 2018 Open Cup proper for the first time thanks to the goals of Kramer Runager and Jordan Gorman – are at home against Buena Park FC at the Lake Forest Sports Park. And last but not least, Keith Costigan’s Cal FC – who set the 2012 Open Cup alight under the tutelage of then-coach Eric Wynalda – take on California United FC II in Thousand Oaks, a place that could use a good distraction, and something to cheer about, after troubling recent events.