Orlando City and Nashville SC are in the kind of form that promises a thrilling Open Cup Quarterfinal this week. Orlando, fifth in MLS’ Eastern Conference and just four points off leaders Philadelphia Union, have been impressive in their three straight Cup wins – each one a nailbiter.
Nashville, in their third season in MLS and their first go-around in the Open Cup, are flying high as well. They’ve lost only once in their last seven outings in all competitions.
On the cusp of the Open Cup’s Last Four, both clubs are just two games away from lifting a first-ever trophy in franchise history. As added motivation, the winner of this week’s Quarterfinal would host the NY Red Bulls in the Semifinal – and also have hosting priority for the Final in September.
Home-Cooking Fuels Orlando Cup Run
Orlando City, who joined MLS in 2015, have been here before. In 2019, the last time the Open Cup was held prior to a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the men from central Florida stormed through to the Semifinal stage for the first time in club history. Despite hosting on that historic day, they lost out 2-0 to rivals (and eventual champions) Atlanta United.
Much has changed in Orlando since 2019, with the departure of Portuguese star Nani and the arrival of Alexandre Pato – the former Brazilian international who’s started every Cup game since OCSC joined the 2022 party back in the Third Round. The former AC Milan man’s playmaking, experience and all-around panache have helped make a firm fighting fist of the side who’ve hosted all three of their Open Cup games so far at Exploria Stadium (the venue for Wednesday’s Quarterfinal). There, they beat out the Rowdies (USL Championship), then Philadelphia Union and Inter Miami FC in the Round of 16.
In Coach Oscar Pareja, Orlando have a man who knows the way to the promised land of Cup glories. A Cup runner-up as a player, he led FC Dallas to an Open Cup crown back in 2016 as the club’s coach.
“We [Orlando City] have been fighting to be more precise, which we’ll do,” Pareja said after the Round of 16 win over Inter Miami. “Their [the players] hearts are big and we’re proud of that.”
Nashville Making Beautiful Cup Music
Nashville are playing in their first Open Cup as an MLS team (they reached the Round of 16 and upset MLS’ Colorado Rapids as a USL Championship side back in 2018). They’re coming off a 3-1 win over D.C. United that has them looking like one of the form team’s in the league at present.
The Music City side started their Cup campaign back in the Round of 32 with a breathless 3-2 win over defending 2019 champions Atlanta United and followed it up with a tricky test against USL Championship powers Louisville City out on the road. That 2-1 win sees them now on the verge of a place in a first-ever Semifinal – which they would host at their brand-new GEODIS Park against the New York Red Bulls should they get past Orlando on Wednesday.
The debutant side boast some impressive players with loads of experience in the form of U.S. Men’s National Team defensive stalwart Walker Zimmerman and midfielder Dax McCarty. In attack, Hany Mukhtar has been flying with eight goals in league play (one off MLS’ top-scorer mark) and the crucial last-gasp winner in the Round-of-16 away test against Louisville in the Cup.
If either of these teams manage to win the 2022 Open Cup – what would be an historic first for either club – it will likely be this crucial Quarterfinal they’ll remember as the turning point.
Who’ll reach that coveted Semifinals? Only time will tell. So make sure to watch LIVE on June 29 at 7:00pm ET on ESPN+ – your streaming home of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.