The Great Eight Round Two: Family Resemblance, Teenage Kicks & Hot Air in the Motor CityRead the latest in our ongoing Great Eight Series where we take a light-hearted Round-by-Round look at some of the magic moments of America’s favorite soccer tournament.
Fans of the 109-year-old Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (in its 107th edition) live by its magic moments. And the Second Round of this 2022 competition tossed up a good few of those from April 5 to 7. Join usopencup.com for a look back at eight moments of note from 31 games in which 62 teams were evenly split between jubilation and despair. A hefty 99 goals were scored, Detroit City FC sent out smoke signals to next round’s opponent (Columbus Crew of MLS) and a 15-year-old made history in Orange County.
Familiar faces through the fog
How many fathers and sons have played in the Open Cup? We wonder. Through all these years, going back to 1914, how many boys heard dad’s old stories before making his own tilt on the Cup’s rutty, muddy stages? We know of Bill and Joe Eppy for sure, both champions with Saint Louis Kutis. In the here and now, Ezra Armstrong, son of 1990 World Cup player and near 100-cap U.S. national team defender Desmond, scored last week in a win for first timers Saint Louis City. And we saw Carlos Llamosa’s son too, also Carlos and also a defender like his dad. A dead ringer for his old man, the 2002 World Cup veteran and MLS Cup winner, Llamosa Junior, who’ll see Sacramento Republic’s attackers in his nightmares, had a rough night with the Portland Timbers U-23s.
And didn’t we recognize a few old faces too? Juan Agudelo (29, Birmingham Legion) and Michael Orozco (36, Orange County SC) – was that you, guys? While their time with the U.S. national team may be over, it’s nice to see these former CONCACAF Gold Cup winners still out there battling in the second division and this oldest of Cups.
Smoke (and some hot air) in Hamtramck
We’ve come to know Detroit City FC a little over the years – at least since their Open Cup debut as amateurs back in 2014. They’re most in their element on the pitch at Keyworth – that old relic of red brick and concrete given new life by the club’s fans. It’s noisy at Keyworth. This is fact. The fans, they never, ever, shut up. They are the definition of relentless. It’s smoky at Keyworth too – canisters of color loosed after every goal scored by their side. And let’s face it: they’re there, in part, to get under your skin (you being opposing fans and players). And they did all of that when, in this Second Round, they banged three past old foes – and former heated league mates – Michigan Stars FC. The stadium was engulfed in smoke – with cell phone screens glowing eerie blue-green through the low, heavy haze. The Stars owner, perhaps still reeling from a big loss in a big derby, had much to say on twitter the next day. Accusations of sabotage, of smoke and darkness and smell, were pinned to the mast of the Stars twitter account – allowing the Detroit City fans one more opportunity to bang the drum and raise a little more hell (up near 500 retweets, with comment, at time of publishing).
Surprise, surprise – so many Upsets
The Open Cup is simple. It’s me against you. One of us will win. And the other, well you get it. It’s the upsets we crave. And we got some – oh boy, did we – in this Second Round. The Central Valley Fuego got hot enough to burn fingers in Fresno, where they beat USL Championside side El Paso Locomotive 4-1. And you boys from North Carolina – the Fusion U-23 summer leaguers, your stunned and delighted faces said it all after causing yet another early exit for pro side Charlotte Independence. The Northern Colorado Hailstorm – first-timers to our old party – were worthy winners over the higher-ranked Switchbacks – as were South Georgia Tormenta, who had to wait out a full-day weather delay to shock 2008 runners-up Charleston Battery.
These are just a few of ten instances in the Round where teams beat their so-called betters. And this, friends, is the spirit of the Cup.
The Bloom of Youth
You’re always going to see fresh faces in the early rounds of an Open Cup – whether it’s an entire academy team reaching far and high as one – or a fresh youngster signed, perhaps only for a day, by a professional team. San Antonio FC’s Henrik Sakshaug, just 17, is too young to vote but he scored twice (becoming the youngest to ever score a brace for the club). And the freshest face of them all was Marcus Lee of Irvine, California. Just 15, he couldn’t drive himself to the stadium in Orange County. But inside the first few seconds, he opened the scoring for NISA’s California United Strikers. His high school friends in the stands, Lee’s name and number scrawled across their chests, never stopped rooting for their boy. He finished the night with a goal and an assist in a 5-0 win.
Ultimate Frisbees, Community Colleges and flag footballs
Look around these early rounds. Take it in. It’s the whole of the country you see. In its early spring bloom, on weekday evenings, the sun glowing its last whispers down toward an American horizon. And it’s not just the flashy stadiums of the top-earners we should pause to admire. No, the Second Round saw games from College fields (Monroe Community College in Rochester and Montclair State in New Jersey among others). We saw shared spaces, some of them with american football lines or baseball diamonds slashing the field of play. We heard passing trains and saw tugboats on the Monongahela River. Of course, there were the likes of the Charleston Battery’s magnificent Patriots Point and Tampa Bay’s gorgeous Al Lang Stadium. And, of course, Highmark – riverside home to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. They’re all beauties of the pro game. But we also had the University of Alabama’s soccer stadium in Tuscaloosa, where the Birmingham Legion played (and won). When the ball went up and over one of the goals, the students playing flag football and ultimate frisbee nearby were happy to send it back.
Numbers tell (only some) stories
Numbers don’t lie is how the old saying goes. But this is a lie. The Open Cup, given its age and set in its ways, resists modern trends. Analytics and high-density statistical analysis? You can keep that. Older methods are preferred. In 31 games, 99 goals were scored. Over 45 hours of soccer was played over three days. Not one of the 31 games needed a penalty shootout – that adrenaline-fueled monster of last-resort. And only three games needed extra-time. Half of the 62 teams in action went home wondering what might have been – and the other half survived to consider the dream becoming real.
Firsts to remember
The number-one always matters in the Open Cup. If you’re number-one on the night, you earn the right to play some more. But we had different ones in this Second Round too. No less than 17 pro teams played their first-ever Open Cup games (with NISA and MLS Next at the party for the first time(. San Diego Loyal, Northern Colorado Hailstorm and Bay Cities FC all scored their first-ever goals. Flower City Union of Rochester also earned a first victory as a club – up against the Western Mass Pioneers in Ludlow. But Rochester New York FC, of MLS Next, we don’t know what to do with you. Did you win your first game as a club? Or did you carry on the proud tradition of the Rhinos of old? Are you a debutant winner or a former champion (1999)? We just don’t know. But maybe knowing, like all-the-way knowing, is overrated. Fans didn’t seem to sweat the details up at Monroe Community College, where the new/old debutants and former champions beat amateur U.S. champs Lansdowne Yonkers FC in the rain.
Despite the re-brand, new colors, new league and a new minority owner in England and Leicester City hero Jamie Vardy, those one-time (and still?) Rhinos’ supporters kept shouting for their heroes. Roch-Est-Er was the call, in unison, late in the game. The response: Rhinos!
A Fond Farewell
This is the part that hurts. Always does. The Open Cup may be magical – and it is damned romantic – but with each Round we have to say those hard goodbyes to some earnest strivers. Like the D’Feeters from near Dallas, friends and friends-of-friends brought along for the ride, who gave a pro team as much as they could handle in San Antonio. And regulars, the Villages, from Florida, who – though beaten badly – we hope will return next year with renewed spirit. What to say about the Des Moines Menace? So often the spoiler. Won’t we see you again too? Here’s hoping. Cleveland SC, you did yourself proud in your long-awaited debut, and so did you, Oyster Bay United. We know it didn’t end well, Portland Timbers U23, but we can’t wait to see in your new shirts in the years to come.
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.