Jeopardy For First Batch of MLS’ Big Boys: #USOC2022 Third Round PreviewThe first tranche of Major League Soccer (MLS) sides enter the 2022 U.S. Open Cup in the Third Round – which will see 48 teams in action through 24 games over two days (April 19 and 20).
The Third Round of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup welcomes 17 teams from Major League Soccer. It’s the first appearance of sides from MLS – the country’s top professional league and producer of every Open Cup champion since 2000 – in this year’s competition. With those top-flight teams wearing targets on their backs, and 31 lower-league winners from the previous round all eager to make a mark, the 24 games (across two days of competition – April 19 and 20) are bound to be action-packed.
Just two teams from the all-amateur Open Division (from an original 32) are still alive and kicking in the 2022 Open Cup. FC Motown, back for a fourth edition of the competition, travel north from their homebase of Morristown, New Jersey to take on Rochester New York FC – the rebranded, repackaged and renamed former Rochester Rhinos – who were the last non-MLS team to win the tournament back in 1999.
The other survivor is NC Fusion (U23) from USL’s League Two. Fresh off a shock 4-2 win over USL League One pro side Charlotte Independence in the last round, and comprised of young up-and-comers and post-collegiate strivers, they’ll meet another USL League One foe in the Richmond Kickers. And the 1995 Open Cup champions would do well not to take the Greensboro men lightly.
“We have a sense of belief,” said Brazil-born Fusion midfielder Joao DeSilva. “We can do it if we study and approach the game in the right way. It’s our dream to make history and we dare to do it.”
Bites at the MLS Apple on Round Three’s Day One
All 17 of the entering Major League Soccer sides will face a team from a lower division. This should heap extra pressure on the top-flighters as they try to avoid Third-Round cupsets.
After a multi-year pro soccer drought in the city, Rochester, NY now has two teams in the 2022 Open Cup. Flower City Union of NISA will host three-time Open Cup champions D.C. United at the Rochester Community Sports Complex in one Tuesday’s early games.
Miami is home to a cross-town derby at Florida International University when Miami FC of the second-division USL Championship take on Phil Neville’s Inter Miami CF, the second-year team out of MLS who finished fourth-from-bottom in last year’s Eastern Conference standings.
FC Cincinnati finished dead last – and by some distance too – in last year’s MLS standings, but they do have some recent Open Cup glory to draw on. As members of the USL Championship in 2017, they beat Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire both to come within seconds of a place in that year’s Final. This year, however, they face a Pittsburgh Riverhounds side from their old league with ultra-experienced coach Bob Lilley at the helm and “hoping to win something.”
Detroit City FC open the doors of their noisy, smokey – and decidedly inhospitable (for visitors at least) – Keyworth Stadium to Columbus Crew SC. It’s the first time the USL Championship side will take on Major League Soccer opposition and it’s bound to be interesting for neutrals and partisans alike.
The 109-year-old tournament (in its 107th edition) makes a happy return to Soldier Field in this Third Round. Chicago Fire – who won two of their four Open Cups at the old stadium (1998 and 2000) – play host to Union Omaha of USL League One (the third pro tier) in one of the biggest mismatches of the Third Round (at least on paper).
The two-time Open Cup champions FC Dallas will roll out the welcome mat for FC Tulsa (USL Championship) in Frisco, Texas (permanent home of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and the original Open Cup trophy – the Dewar Cup)
There will be a meaningful homecoming for the Rio Grande Valley Toros boss and former Colombia international Wilmer Cabrera. His trip to the PNC Stadium in Houston sees him go head-to-head with Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer – the team he led to the Open Cup crown back in 2018. Mixed emotions (and a possible cupset) could be on the cards in H-Town.
Bay Cities FC of NISA (one of only four teams still alive from the National Independent Soccer Association) hope for more fireworks like the ones that saw them beat Monterey Bay FC in the dying seconds of their Second-Round contest when they take on MLS side San Jose Earthquakes.
MORE MLS-UNDERDOG AFFAIRS ON DAY TWO
Hartford Athletic of the USL Championship play their third consecutive 2022 Open Cup game at their home ground of Trinity Health Stadium (formerly Dillon Stadium). but they’ll be heavy underdogs this time up against MLS’ New York Red Bulls – who were runners-up in the 2017 edition of the tournament.
MLS’s Charlotte FC play their first-ever game in any Open Cup away on Wednesday. They’re up against a John Harkes-led Greenville Triumph of the USL Championship – who beat an Oakland Roots side sapped by cross-country travel in the Second Round.
By some arithmetic Atlanta United must be considered the reigning Open Cup champions – as they were the last side to win the trophy before a two-year pause for the Pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Semantics aside, they’ll have a tough fight on their hands when NISA’s Chattanooga FC – and their band of merry supporters – show up in Kennesaw with coach Rod Underwood (an Atlanta native and former Open Cup semifinalist) hoping to pull off a cupset for the ages.
Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee will see a second all-Florida affair as USL Championship men Tampa Bay Rowdies take on MLS’ Orlando City – who reached the Semifinal stage of the last Open Cup (back in 2019). And over in Texas, we’ll all be treated to a Lone Star State derby when San Antonio FC of the USL Championship host debutants Austin FC of MLS.
Wisconsin is the venue for what might be the party of the Third Round – and it’s a bird-on-bird showdown. The colorful flamingos of Forward Madison (USL League One) swing open the gates of their Breese Stevens Field to the 2019 Open Cup runner-up Loons of Minnesota United FC.
Farther west, there’s a first-ever Rocky-Mountain clasico to savor. The first-year Northern Colorado Hailstorm of USL League One (third division) – who became one of the biggest surprises of the Second Round by knocking out USL Championship toppers Colorado Springs Switchbacks – travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on 2009 MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake.
“We have great unity in this team and we all do what it takes to succeed,” said former Denver University standout and Fort Collins, Colorado native Destan Norman. “We have each others’ backs out there and we’ve got some momentum now.”
Rounding out the MLS-involved action is a mouth-watering contest between top-flighters LAFC and second-tier Orange County SC. A matchup between the reigning champions of the USL Championship and MLS’ current Western Conference points leader at the Banc of California Stadium is one that promises fireworks.
Non-MLS Matchups Wrap Up the Action
Rounding out the Third Round are five games featuring teams from the lower leagues exclusively. And the South Georgia Tormenta - Birmingham Legion game looks like a potential cupset in the making. The Georgia side, one of eight teams remaining from the third-tier USL League One, are fresh off of an upset of USL Championship outfit and 2008 Open Cup finalists Charleston Battery. They’ll be hoping to repeat the trick against the Legion – a club run by a pair of Open Cup winners in Jay Heaps (president and GM) and Tom Soehn (head coach).
Later on Tuesday, FC Tucson, also of USL League One, meet NISA’s California United Strikers, who made history when their 15-year-old Marcus Lee became the youngest-ever Open Cup scorer in a Second Round win over San Fernando Valley FC.
There’ll be Louis everywhere at the Lynn Family Stadium in Kentucky when Louisville City – quarterfinalists in 2018 and top of the 2022 USL Championship’s Eastern Conference – host St. Louis City 2 of the new MLS Next pro league.
The 24 Third Round winners will move through to the Round of 32 (May 10 and 11), where the remaining eight Major League Soccer sides will enter the fray and have their say.
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.