The Great Eight Rd. 4: Teal for Real, College Days & a New Mexico Road Show
Fans of the 106-year-old Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup live by its magic moments. And the Fourth Round of the 2019 competition tossed up a good few of those on June 11 and 12. Join ussoccer.com for a look back at eight moments of note from the 16 games, in which Teal Bunbury turned it on for the Revs, two underdogs showed their teeth and the Allianz Field in Saint Paul glittered onto the Open Cup’s main stage.
Now this... this is what #USOC2019 is all ABOUT! 👏— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) June 13, 2019
After a hard fought battle, @NewMexicoUTD pullls of the #Cupset and topples MLS opponent @ColoradoRapids in penalties!
FINAL | 2-2 AET (4-2 PKs) |#USOC2019
📺 Highlights ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/UnIyXwY1in
That Underdog Bite
We all want it. We crave it. We wait, every year, for these underdogs – whoever they are – to knock a big pooch off his perch. Saint Louis FC looked mean from the start against Chicago Fire. They pushed the four-time Open Cup winners back toward their own goal and deserved the 2-1 win their home fans reveled in. New Mexico United – a first year USL Championship team – had a tougher task out on the road at altitude against Colorado Rapids. Since they couldn’t watch their heroes play at their own home stadium, the New Mexico fans travelled in their numbers to the foothills just east of the Rocky Mountains. They thundered and drummed on their boys, outshining the tepid band of home supporters who bothered to show up. The roar that greeted Kevaughn Frater’s equalizer deep in stoppage time might well have been heard all the way back at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque.
Teal’s the Real Deal
Teal Bunbury isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But Bruce Arena believes in him. He’s leaned on the striker since arriving earlier this year at the New England Revolution – a club that’s been on a sad slow slide toward obscurity. “He’s a good player and a great individual,” said Arena, who handed Bunbury the armband before the 2019 Open Cup Fourth Rounder against big rivals New York Red Bulls on the road. “When you’re in a situation like we’re in, you need someone with character.” He showed it when it counted too. Bunbury chased a ball up the left side. He had two defenders in front of him. The Revs were a man down deep in over-time and tied at 1-1. Time to go for the corner, right? Play for PKs? Be safe? Not this man. Look close and you can see him do the computations in his brain. The decision came in a split-second – chip the keeper from way out at a tough angle. He put the team on his back because leaders do what needs doing.
Bells & Whistles Welcome
St. Paul, Minnesota’s Allianz Field saw its first-ever Open Cup game. Opened in April, it’s a post-modern pleasure palace with every comfort and stylish twist. It’s a million miles from the old Metropolitan Oval in NY, with its hammered dirt and iron rail around the pitch. It’s light years from the Rancho al Cienaga on LA’s outskirts, or Farcher’s Grove in Jersey, where slide tackles took half the flesh of your leg away and left a part of you to seed the hard ground. But it’s a part of a continuum – 106 years of a Cup open to all who want in. And Allianz, you did the old tournament proud. Your home team Minnesota United stormed through to win 4-1, with Darwin Quintero playing the kind of soccer that fills hearts. Sporting Kansas City and Peter Vermes – towering figures in the Modern Era of the Open Cup – were on the wrong side this day when the Allianz became an Open Cup giant of its own.
@HoustonDynamo are into the Round of 16 with a 3-2 win after surviving an early second half barrage by @AustinBoldFC. The defending champs will await Thursday's draw to see their next opponent #USOC2019— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) June 12, 2019
📺 Highlights 👇 pic.twitter.com/wcXyNglKK8
The last time Houston Dynamo played an Open Cup game away from home was June 14, 2017. That’s nearly two years to the day. Last year, the coin flipped and flipped in their favor and saw the Dynamo play every one of their five games – from an opener against spirited amateurs NTX Rayados, to a Final against Philadelphia Union – at their BBVA Stadium. People like to say the fates are fickle, but the coin flipped for them again in their 2019 Cup opener. At home once more, they went up 3-0 on Austin Bold (oh those comforts of home). In the end, though, they were hanging on by their fingernails, lucky to make it out alive. Now the defending champions face a Round of 16 meeting with Minnesota United. Guess where? At home again. If they win that – according to the Official Draw in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday morning – they’ll be home one more time in the Quarters against either FC Dallas or New Mexico United. Hey, Mister Open Cup Commissioner, time to shave a little off that fateful coin.
Dynamo Right at Home
Kljesten – Open Cup Old SoulThe Open Cup rushes in Sacha Kljesten’s veins. “I love this Cup,” he admitted a few years back. He plays the part well – an old-fashioned No. 10, a creator and a schemer. He won’t bust his lungs running in circles. He looks the part too. With that mustache he so often prefers, the maestro wouldn’t be out of place lining up for U.S. Open Cup heroes of the 1970s and 80s like Maccabi Los Angeles or the Greek Americans of New York or Kutis in Saint Louis. Kljestan’s two goals for Orlando City in their Fourth Round win over Memphis 901 likely brought a smile to the face of his college coach Manfred Schellscheidt. A player in the 1970s and twice an Open Cup champ with Elizabeth SC, Manny schooled a young Kljestan in the lore and folk wisdom of the old Cups. “He’d talk about going out to LA to play in the Open Cup and the old German American League in New York,” Kljestan told ussoccer.com. “He talked about the Finals and the trophy. There was something amazing about that.”
The Old College TryThere’s something of the old traveling road show to the Open Cup – 106-years-old and wandering the country every summer under its best sunsets and fiercest storms. It’s a long story – our story – told with feet on soccer fields. It’s told in mud and goals and blood. Four teams in the 2019 Fourth Round travelled out into the territories to host their games at local colleges. Saint Louis FC played at Lindenwood University where, neither the gridiron football lines nor the confusing lacrosse lines that intersected them like advanced mathematical functions, did anything to dampen the feeling of the second division underdog Saint Louis FC knocking out the Chicago Fire. FC Dallas invited OKC Energy across state lines to Southern Methodist University and a 4-0 ambush. Montclair State University was rocking, and sold out, for the NYRB vs. New England Revolution contest. And St. John’s Belson Stadium in Queens played host to NYCFC v North Carolina FC. It’s no small detail that it’s also home to the NY Pancyprian Freedoms, three-time Open Cup winners in the semi-pro days of the 1980s. This long, old story overlaps.
A Blessing & a Curse
Latif Blessing can be annoying. We won’t argue it. He’ll make you look bad. He’ll wriggle around you – hell even through you – and he’ll zig when he should zag. For a defender, he’s a drag. And when he’s hot, he’s pretty unplayable. The shortest man on the field, he scored the first goal in the Final for Sporting Kansas City in 2017 and he danced with the Open Cup trophy (it’s almost as tall as him) in the center circle after the final whistle. “I love Open Cup – you lose and you’re out, so you better not lose,” he said from his new home at LAFC where the Ghanaian set up one of three in a rout of Real Salt Lake. Such was the frustration he caused Donny Toia – an excitable fellow in the best of circumstances – the RSL defender grabbed Blessing around the neck and clotheslined him to the ground early in the second half. Toia was overwhelmed with chasing and spinning and anticipating. He stood over the little man, breathing hard, and shouted in his face to get up. Blessing’s smile told the whole story: I win.