The Great Eight Round of 16: Hunting Owls & a Brave Republic Prosper as Two LAs Collide

Read 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.
By: Jonah Fontela

Fans of the 109-year-old Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (in its 107th edition) live by its magic moments. And the Round of 16 of this 2022 competition tossed up a good few of those on May 25. Join for a look back at eight moments of note from eight games in which 16 teams were evenly split between jubilation and despair. While Louisville City’s run came to an end, those curious third-division owls of Union Omaha are flying high and starting to terrify. So are USL Championship sluggers Sacramento Republic – after a thrilling round that saw worlds collide in LA and New York’s finest get good marks back at school.


What’s With These Owls?

Culture, both modern and of the ancients, made a scholar of Brother Owl. But he’s still a hunter at his core. It’s this side of the creature – ancient symbol of wisdom and the pre-human form for the great goddess Athena – that Union Omaha have tapped into. There are fresh pieces of, not one – but two, eviscerated Major League Soccer teams stuck in the Owls’ talons. The 2019 Open Cup runners-up Minnesota United fell in the Round of 16 same as the Chicago Fire did earlier. A stunning volley from Joe Brito in St. Paul finished off an epic comeback that now sees the Nebraska side still alive among the Last Eight teams (of an original 103). It sounded like your standard veteran patter when their captain Conor Doyle – who won an Open Cup with D.C. United in 2013 – said: “We have nothing to lose, and can play loose.” His gleaming eyes, which have seen all the good, the bad and the ugly of a journeyman’s career, told something more. Of a team, hungry for respect, carrying the flag for every dreamer out there. 


Up next, it’s a trip to Sporting Kansas City. And we do recommend the four-time Open Cup champions load their big guns – and keep their eyes on the skies.


Don’t Forget Old LA

Los Angeles, you City of Angels. Home to our national Dream Machine, airbrusher of our rougher American edges. Carson, down in the county, is 25 miles from the Hollywood sign, but it was the site of pure Open Cup drama on Wednesday. Both the Galaxy and LAFC’s top dogs were on from the start. Chicharito went the distance for the home side, though, as Carlos Vela, blunted by injury, lasted only a few minutes. The flash of the moment – huge-money stars, heaving crowds and soccer-specific stadia – found counterpoint in the stands. There Benny Binshtock, Moshe Hoftman, Chon Miranda, Leo Kulinczenko and Avram Cohen watched on and considered how far the American game has come since they won five Open Cups between 1972 and 1981 with Maccabee LA. They were honored at the half, down on the field, and they must have felt a pang of familiarity when a brawl ended the 3-1 Galaxy win. That passion drew a straight line back to the rough and tumble of the old semi-pro days when the Maccabees, founded by Holocaust survivors and proudly wearing the Star of David on their chests, were, for a decade and then some, the best of the best. “What a day,” proclaimed Binshtock, a winner of five national titles who retired at the final whistle of his fifth Open Cup win (at Giants Stadium in 1981). 




Grinwis, Stajduhar & the Gift of Orlando’s Goalkeepers

There’s something about Orlando City’s net-minders. They produce a kind of quiet Cup magic. In 2019, it was the red-headed and ever-smiling Adam Grinwis who was the hero of that year’s Quarterfinal. The entire home end of Exploria Stadium sprinted through the stands and the concourses to the other end of the stadium to make sure they did their part after the pre-shootout coin toss didn’t cooperate. And the man they call Grinny, who, in 2012, helped amateur giant-slayers the Michigan Bucks (now the Flint City Bucks) beat MLS’ Chicago Fire in the Cup, was on the bench this week when his dear friend Mason Stajduhar saved a crucial shootout spot-kick in front of some of those same home fans from three years ago. It was only about ten days after Grinny and his wife, Morgan, played their part in an elaborate scheme that saw Stajduhar, a survivor of bone cancer, propose marriage on the pitch to his girlfriend Tatiana. “He’s one of the best people you’ll ever meet – and a real mentor to me,” said Stajduhar of Grinwis, who, not surprisingly, shared a long embrace with his friend and fellow ‘keeper after he helped book a place in the Quarterfinals.

Yedlin Goes Emerald Green (Again)

DeAndre Yedlin is a hero of the U.S. Open Cup. Check your history books if you’re new to our tournament. He won the 2014 title with the Seattle Sounders (their last of a run of four Cup crowns in six years starting in 2009). Back then he was just a local kid gifted with terrifying pace. One wonders why, now decked in pink and with a heron over his heart at David Beckham’s Inter Miami, he chose to paint his head electric green ahead of the Round of 16 loss to Orlando City. Was it nostalgia for those good old days in the Emerald City – back when the whole world was at his feet? We’ll never know, really, but he sure was easy to find on the pitch, his head matching, to a perfect nuance of shading, the bermudagrass turf of the Exploria Stadium playing surface. And thus there was nowhere to hide when he blazed over the bar from 12 paces and bowed out of the Cup with his debutant Miamians.


Sacramental Offering in Sacramento

The capital city of California was named after the Spanish word for sacrament – any ritual imparting divine grace. It’s a city that gets its fair amount of ridicule from the flashier corners of the Golden State. It’s not got the flash of LA, or the weather of San Diego, or the soggy charms of San Francisco. But what it does have is a diehard devotion to its (often struggling) sports teams. The Kings, the city’s only top-tier franchise, haven’t won an NBA title since 1951. But the fans still scream their hearts out. And while the Republic’s bid to join MLS fell through earlier this year, those same home fans pushed on. Rodrigo ‘RoRo’ Lopez returned to the club at the start of this USL Championship season – and sure, he’s 35 now and has some hard miles on him – but the fans met him at the airport to let him know he’s still their guy. And didn’t he deliver on Wednesday? His screamer – a goal for the ages that arrowed angrily to the top corner – sealed a 2-0 win over MLS’ Earthquakes of San Jose. “I love it here” Lopez told before the game. We get why.


The Numbers

We’ll leave your deep-dive hardcore statistical analysis to the pros and their protractors. If you’re interested in who had the most goal-worthy attempts from the left side after a cross-field ball, you’ve come to the wrong place. What we do know, however, is that only eight teams remain alive in this oldest cauldron of American soccer. Two of those, SacRep and the mighty Owls of Union Omaha, are working from significantly smaller pools of cash and far shallower squads than the five Major League Soccer (MLS) survivors. We also know (and delight in the fact) that 22 goals were scored through the eight games of the Round of 16 – close to three goals per contest. And that is, to borrow a technical term, great. Also great is the fact that not one single game went through extra-time without at least one goal being scored. We support all of this – and demand more of the same when we pick up next month.  



Back to School in (and around) NYC

Both NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls played their Round of 16 games in the intimate environs of the area’s local colleges. The Red Bulls, with a goal from Long Island’s Dylan Nealis in a 3-1 win, ended Charlotte FC’s dreams at Montclair State University in New Jersey (same venue where FC Motown – top amateur performers of this 2022 competition – played their home games). Reigning MLS champions New York City FC had to endure a stubborn fight at Belson Stadium (on the campus of St John’s University in Queens) from the New England Revolution. It was a homecoming of sorts for the Revs’ assistant coach Shalrie Joseph, who took the school’s Red Storm to the 2001 NCAA Final Four before winning an Open Cup with the Revolution in 2007. Having the fans right up close, involved and invested in the action, seemed to spur both home sides on to victory. They’ll now meet in a Hudson River Derby, graduating up to swanky Red Bull Arena for the Quarterfinal.


A Fond Farewell

The Round of 16 is a testing ground. Many a year it’s where the wheat gets separated from the chaff. But 2022 continues to surprise (and delight). We lost Louisville City, who themselves lost teenage star Josh Wynder to injury. And even with the exploits of underdogs Sacramento Republic and those Owls of Omaha, we’ll still miss the Kentucky club and undisputed giants of the second-division. The New England Revolution promised much when they dismantled FC Cincinnati in the last round, but they crumbled as the New York Metro area rose up to set a Quarterfinal local derby date. 2018 champions Houston Dynamo hit the end of the road. So too have LAFC, still searching for their Open Cup moment.


But that’s just the fleeting pain of sporting loss. The black armbands and moments of silence – agreed to by all participating teams, leagues and organizers – were a reminder of the senseless tragedy at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that saw 21 people, 19 of them children, lose their lives this week.


Let’s do better, America.

Fontela is editor-in-chief of Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.

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